Victoria musician keeps singers with special needs connected through online 'karaoke'
VICTORIA -- Avram is strumming an acoustic guitar in his serene studio. It couldn’t be more different than the positive pandemonium he experienced before the pandemic.
“Imagine karaoke with a live band,” he smiles, describing the Namaste program.
It was an inclusive karaoke program where professional musicians supported passionate singers with special needs.
“There is an uplifting,” Avram says of the weekly hour-long concerts. “It is very magical.”
It was an opportunity for the singers to feel seen and be heard.
“It’s acceptance,” Caroline says, who has twins with Down syndrome. “They get to be themselves and enjoy themselves.”
Caroline says her sons, Scott and Neil, would regularly request ‘Billie Jean’ at Namaste to ensure the crowd kept moving.
“It was just packed,” Avram says of the crowd, both on stage and off. “Not pandemic friendly.”
So when COVID-19 struck, hundreds of members of the special needs community were suddenly stuck without their routine and no opportunity to perform.
“It was hard,” Caroline says about the start of the pandemic. “I was trying to do as much as I could. [Scott and Neil] were bored.”
So Avram started working with the groups involved with Namaste and found a partial solution through Zoom.
“Good morning,” Avram smiles into a tablet, alone in his studio. “How’s everybody?”
Now the musician spends his Tuesday mornings accompanying a virtual line-up of singers performing an eclectic set of songs — ranging from ‘I Will Survive’ to ‘You Give Love A Bad Name.’
When performers — spread out across the city in group homes and day-programs — ask for a song, Avram immediately starts playing it on his acoustic guitar.
Scott and Neil are participating from their family room, watching their iPad screen while playing along with a guitar and percussive instruments.
Today they’ve requested to tell their pandemic blues to ‘Beat It’.
“There’s different anxieties that have come up for all of us during the pandemic,” Avram says. “The more we can connect in those deeper ways [through music] the less anxiety we have.”
“I’m grateful for everybody and what they’re doing to keep it going,” Caroline says.
Avram is grateful to keep reflecting the smiles he’s inspiring through the screen.
“So they go into the week feeling a little happier and more relaxed,” he smiles. “And I do too.”
Then Avram plays a request for “What a Wonderful World,” ending the song with his best Louis Armstrong impression and biggest smile. He reminds the people on the other side of the screen that despite all that is going wrong around the world, there is still so much going right here.