Chase the Music: Songs of hope for those who struggle
By Julie Marshall
When Clark Hodge heard the horrible news that a friend’s little girl, Lauren, was diagnosed with leukemia at age 3, he and his wife wanted to buy the child something special. “Tracy and I had found a teddy bear,” he says, “but doesn’t every child already have 25 stuffed animals? We wanted something with real meaning.”
Hodge turned to his many musician friends in the artsy community of Lyons and soon orchestrated the creation of an original piece of music about hope, called “Chase the Morning Sun,” by world-renowned Ohio composer Clint Needham. The 60-piece Lyons High School Band performed the piece for 500 people at the Broadmoor Hotel in Colorado Springs.
That momentous affair, in 2011, was the start of a journey to create a nonprofit, Chase the Music, which since then has provided individually tailored songs and concerts, free of charge, to Colorado children, teens and young adults who struggle with medical, physical, mental and emotional challenges. Musicians and composers from across the country are carefully matched to each child’s personality, Hodge says. That has resulted in a huge variety of genres and styles, such as jazz, bluegrass and classical, and the concerts have featured soloists, singer-songwriters, full orchestras and even a jug band. Artists say the partnership is life changing, allowing them to hand families a gift that lasts forever, and families cherish the personal attention and newfound relationships.
Visit www.chasethemusic.org to learn more and to watch past Chase the Music performances.
“Lauren was going through chemotherapy when we had her concert,” Hodge recalls. “I knew I was doing the right thing when she came up to me and said, ‘I’m never going to stop smiling.’” (Lauren is currently “doing great,” he says.)
From Computers to Composers
Hodge, 56, wasn’t always matchmaking between composers, musicians and children in need of joy in their lives. He was a high-school percussionist who studied computer science and sociology at CU Boulder. After 30 years of computer support and software sales, he was ready to make a difference in the world, he says.
“You don’t cry in high tech,” Hodge explains. “At each of our concerts, the musicians cry, the audience cries. It’s a good cry, though, one that expresses the love and joy for the child.”
The entire process was indeed emotional, says Jennifer Leasure, whose daughter Kati was diagnosed at age 2 with a rare neurodegenerative disease called ataxia-telangiectasia, and later with lymphoma. Today she’s cancer-free, but is confined to a wheelchair due to progressive loss of muscle control.
“When Clark first approached us, I was apprehensive,” Leasure says. “I thought, who does this? But then I saw what a gift he was offering to our family.” Hodge pulled in Oregon composer Nick Halsey and the Boulder Cello Project, a nonprofit dedicated to providing music to all people no matter their circumstances. The result was a piece called “Kati’s Run,” a musical exploration for 12 cellists, flute, oboe, trumpet, timpani, snare drum and triangle. It recreates the feel of traversing down the slopes—one of Kati’s favorite sports to do on adaptive skis.
Now 16, Kati fondly remembers the concert, held at Boulder’s eTown Hall a few years ago: “It was cool because it was like skiing down the mountain to music.” Her mom says the event was meaningful because of how Hodge took care of every detail, down to a private dressing room for Kati with a star on the door.
“Having a child with a disability can be kind of lonely because people just don’t seem to know how to be around you,” she says. “But people were coming up to us after the concert and there was so much love. Clark is such a light in our community.”
Kati agrees. “It was a fun way to spend the day with really cool people who love music. They make you feel like a rock star.”
An Unforgettable Experience
The artists who take part in Hodge’s projects say the experience gives them a new perspective on their role as musicians and their impact in the world. “Chase the Music helps you see firsthand how much meaning music can carry,” Halsey says. “Kati’s piece was really fun to write because she has such a vibrant personality. Kati loves skiing, as do I, so I spent a good deal of time coming up with ideas for her piece while I was skiing. The piece is playful, energetic, unexpected and uplifting. I knew that it was a perfect reflection of her personality.”
And Hodge always adds the extra touches, he says. “Clark puts all of the pieces together and makes it happen, bringing the venue to life by displaying photographs of the children and even using their favorite colors as background. We share stories about the children and provide background on the musicians. The attention to detail is stunning.”
It takes hundreds of hours behind the scenes to prepare for a Chase the Music concert, says cellist Molly Niven, who performed in Kati’s concert. “The best part of Chase the Music is that it is not only the child who benefits. Anyone who is involved, whether as a musician, an arranger or composer, as friends, family or music lovers in the audience—we all benefit,” she says. “What’s more important than contributing to something that will positively affect someone’s life in a long-lasting way?”
Julie Marshall is the founder of the nonprofit Brainsong, which connects professional performing artists with families living with different abilities. She lives in Lafayette.