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Voices carry: Benefit concert to raise cheer, donations for Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund



Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 05, 2018

AMHERST — Over a decade after singing in a “Hodie” holiday benefit concert as a student at Smith College, Arianne Abela will take the stage again as a conductor and co-producer of a new iteration of the show benefiting the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund.

This year’s choral concert will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, Dec. 14 at Amherst College’s Buckley Recital Hall and will feature singers from local choruses and the five colleges. There is no admission fee, and aside from printing and publicity expenses, all donations will benefit the Toy Fund.

Hodie, which means “this day” in Latin, was first produced by choral singer Brit Albritton in 2004, while Deanna Joseph, then an assistant director of choral activities at Smith College, served as the program’s artistic director.

Abela, now the director of the Amherst College choral program, said that the Hodie shows were essential in steering her toward a career in music. 

“It was really the reason I started to be interested in conducting,” Abela said of her experience with the fundraising concerts. Initially planning to earn a government degree, Abela was swayed to major in music as she worked under Joseph’s mentorship; she went on to sing in all Hodie concerts during her time at Smith.

Abela, who due to a congenital condition is missing most of her fingers and has a prosthetic left leg, said that participating in the Hodie concerts also played an essential role in teaching her how to “overpower and overcome that insecurity” that came with her physical disabilities.

“Singing in Hodie back in the day was so life-changing for me because it showed me the power of community and coming together through music,” Abela said. 

She continued, “These physical challenges, they didn’t matter, and people like Brit really helped me overcome those challenges, so it’s really special and sentimental for me to come back and do Hodie.”

After graduating from Smith, Abela earned master’s and doctorate degrees in conducting; she also has helped to organize various benefit concerts in her work with the Musicians Take a Stand organization, and in 2013, she was a quarterfinalist on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent,” appearing with her group the 3 Penny Chorus and Orchestra.

When Albritton learned that Abela had been appointed as director of the choral program at Amherst College, both musicians knew that they needed to bring back the Hodie concert.

“Now that I’ve returned (to the area) over 10 years since graduating,” Abela said, “Brit and I decided it would be fun to start again ... Ever since I left here, I’ve kind of been dedicating myself to these charities.”

Three Hodie shows have been held to benefit the Toy Fund in 2005, 2006 and 2007, Albritton said.

In its first year benefiting the Toy Fund, the concert raised $1,988.

Albritton said that his friend Laurel Gardner, who works at the Gazette, initially suggested the Toy Fund as a beneficiary, which Albritton embraced as “a great cause.”

Abela also welcomed the opportunity to benefit the Toy Fund, which she said has become an increasingly moving cause to her now that she has a two-year-old daughter of her own. 

“I just think about kids who actually won’t have gifts,” Abela said, “and I think it’s an important part of not just the holiday season, but the way that we help one another all of the time, and respect one another and give back to the community and especially the kids.”

She continued, “They deserve to have gifts and joy, so it just seemed like the perfect thing to do. To me, children represent that innocence and joy that we have sometimes lost in our everyday life.”

Abela and Albritton said that the concerts also help to bring the community together during a busy and sometimes difficult time of the year.

“It’s been an awful two years for a lot of people,” Albritton said “and finding music like nothing else can really provide an opportunity to find solidarity and peace in the midst of a difficult time.”

How you can get involved

Named after a former business manager at the Gazette, the Toy Fund began in 1933 to help families in need during the Depression. Today, the fund distributes vouchers worth $40 to families for each child from age 1 to 14. Eligible families must live in any Hampshire County community except Ware, or in the southern Franklin County towns of Deerfield, Sunderland, Whately, Shutesbury and Leverett.

Berkshire Children & Families at 220 Russell St., Suite 200 in Hadley, MA 01035, verifies families’ eligibility and the Gazette covers costs associated with the drive, freeing all donations to fund the vouchers.

The following stores are participating this year: A2Z Science and Learning Store, 57 King St., Northampton; Deals & Steals, 1 Pearl St., Northampton; Faces, 175 Main St. Northampton; JCPenney, 341 Russell St., Hadley (store only); The ToyBox, 201 N. Pleasant St., Amherst; Target, 367 Russell St. Hadley (store only); Sam’s Outdoor Outfitters, 227 Russell St., Hadley; Odyssey Bookshop, 9 College St., Village Commons, South Hadley; Wilson’s Dept. Store, 258 Main St., Greenfield; World Eye Bookshop/Magical Child, 134 Main St., Greenfield.

Donations to the Toy Fund may be dropped off at or mailed to the Daily Hampshire Gazette, P.O. Box 299, Northampton, MA, 01061, or made through Gazettenet at gazettenet.com.

Checks should be made payable to the Sidney F. Smith Toy Fund.

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at jvoghel@gazettenet.com.