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CityMusic Cleveland recruits Tony and Grammy winner Heather Headley for musical fight against child homelessness (preview)
Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer, May 20, 2015

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Prepare to be staggered. On multiple fronts.

When CityMusic Cleveland convenes soon with "Wishes and Dreams," a special season finale devoted to child homelessness, jaws are certain to drop again and again, several times over.

From the statistics behind the issue to the guest artist out front, from the shadowy nature of the problem to the sheer boldness of CityMusic, patrons at Cleveland Masonic Auditorium May 28 and 29 can expect to be moved.

"This one is kind of special," said award-winning singer and actress Heather Headley, the night's main attraction. "I think that always helps, when you know what the concert's for, and it's something you want to be a part of."

The first salvo, the reason CityMusic addressed this issue in the first place, is the data. Attorney Audra Zarlenga, a CityMusic board member and longtime child advocate, said one in 45 children nationwide experiences homelessness each year. That's 6,000 kids in Cleveland alone.

Not since the Great Depression, she said, has that rate been higher, and nowhere else in the industrialized world is the problem so large. What's more, in the United States, the challenge is uniquely complex. Here, even with a roof over his or her head, for any number of reasons, a child can be considered homeless.

"The problem comes in a lot of different varieties in a population we don't really think about," Zarlenga said. "They have no place to go, so they just roam around."

To such a dynamic problem, a concert might not seem like much of a solution. And it isn't, in itself. But it stands to help. Headley, a native of Trinidad most famous for her roles in Broadway's "Lion King," "Aida," and "The Bodyguard," said she'll consider "Wishes and "Dreams" a success if it creates awareness and moves even a few listeners to action.

Her plan, she said, is to stagger in her own right, to draw carefully from her four studio albums and other repertoire to create a balanced evening that speaks to potential adult donors and homeless children alike. Some, too, may find staggering the first half of the program: a double concerto for percussion by CityMusic music director Avner Dorman.

"I don't want the night to be sad," Headley said. "I'm not about wallowing in the pain of it. There's a victory in [the issue] as well, and we'll celebrate that. I hope to touch every person in that room, and that the constant is me at my best."

The third and final staggering volley is CityMusic's nonmusical response. Stepping far outside its usual role of music-maker, the chamber orchestra also plans to hold a "Super Conference" May 28.

Smack in the middle of the 2015 League of American Orchestras national convention in Cleveland, CityMusic will turn heads a far different direction with a day of presentations and discussions by national and local figures involved in the fight against homelessness.

"We're really trying to be a conduit for what's happening on this issue," Zarlenga said.

"We want to help solve the problem and bring together a community you don't typically see in classical music. We'd like to be a beacon of positivity and really focus on doing the right thing."