When Ben Hyman of Fort Lee was young, his mother took him to homeless shelters to donate clothes and toys. It’s not surprising, then, that today, the 34-year-old musician uses his talents to raise money for a variety of charities.
“It’s an important part of what I do,” he said. “It’s about more than just music.”
Mr. Hyman, who comes from Virginia, has been teaching music here for 15 years. At first, he said, “I was performing and doing recording sessions, teaching on the side. I reached a point where it became difficult to be a performer because of the amount of teaching I was doing.” By the time he became a full-time teacher, “I had connected with top musicians in the area and had a wide network in the music industry.”
He also had a strong connection to people in need.
“I have been involved with a number of philanthropies over the years, including an initiative which I co-founded with a friend of mine called the Israel Service Organization,” Mr. Hyman said. “We created the ISO for the IDF, putting on morale-boosting concerts and programs live on IDF bases across Israel. I was the music director for the tours in 2008, 2009, and 2013. During that time, we slept on over 20 military bases, met and performed for thousands of soldiers, ate meals with them, and had a truly life-changing experience.” Other than that, he said, most of his charity-related efforts have centered on his benefit concert series.
This is the sixth year Mr. Hyman — who attended Jewish day schools up until his junior year of high school — is organizing concerts to raise money for charity. Many of the students with whom he has worked over the past 15 years, and who make up the bands performing at his concerts, have been yeshiva students. “I joke that I know more people in the Teaneck and Englewood communities than the shuls’ rabbis do,” he said.
Mr. Hyman said that he goes house to house to do his teaching, since so many of his students are “overscheduled.” Over the years, through word of mouth, his business has grown significantly. Today, he has his own agency, BenHymanmusic.com, and there are 10 teachers working for him. “I’m very blessed in this community,” Mr. Hyman said. “There’s unbelievable support from the families, and parents volunteer their homes” for rehearsals.
On June 20 and June 23, Mr. Hyman’s students will present three concerts to benefit the Hope and Heroes program at Columbia University Medical Center. The initiative funds research into childhood cancer and blood disorders and helps provide support for families of sick children. Last year, Mr. Hyman and his group of student-performers donated concert proceeds to Leket Israel. Before that, the profit from three concerts went to Emunah Beit El Ezraki Children’s Home. This is the second year proceeds will be donated to Hope and Heroes.
“I try to center the charities around child-based programs, with kids who are fortunate raising money to help kids who are not as fortunate,” Mr. Hyman said. “I think it sends a really nice message.”
The idea for the concerts arose when Mr. Hyman, who has been playing music since he was 4, realized that some of his students had become so good that they deserved a chance to perform. “I tried to get the students together,” he said. “I put together a trial program,” organizing a one-week musical experience at a summer camp. “I took them into a recording studio. They had a great time.” After the summer, hoping to put on a concert, the students “kept pushing me, coming up with crazy ideas, like playing in the park.”
Inspired by their enthusiasm, Mr. Hyman took four bar mitzvah students, arranged some music, and trained them to perform as a band at Space Odyssey in Englewood. That innovative bar mitzvah project resulted in a benefit concert, an audience of approximately 450 people, and a sizeable donation to Emunah. The second year, with a concert at Congregation Beth Sholom in Teaneck, the group sold 600 tickets and raised $32,000, which again went to Emunah. Subsequent concerts have taken place both at an area school and Mexicali Live, which will host this year’s performances.
The bands Mr. Hyman has formed — groups of students in elementary, middle, and high school, as well as one for adults — do more than just teach students how to play and perform. “One of the beautiful things that I find with these kids is the friendships that develop from these programs. Kids who would not otherwise be socially active together find common ground through music. They also encourage each other throughout the program.
“Performing is something that many people dream about but are afraid to do. It takes courage to put yourself out there and play and sing for an audience. Whenever we’re in a group rehearsal, and someone is shy, or makes a mistake, the kids in the group chime in words of support and encouragement and they really feed off each other. They genuinely want to see each member succeed. In an environment that is ripe for egocentric and selfish behavior, it’s beautiful to see the kids work together so well.”
While the June concerts already have garnered $20,000 in advance sales, Mr. Hyman said he would love to hit $25,000. “It’s raising money for pediatric cancer,” he said. “And who better to raise the money? This is a sensitive group of kids, who are fortunate to have loving homes and who really care.”
Sam Goldberg of Englewood, 15, is a vocalist and pianist. A student at the Frisch School, Sam has been studying with Hyman for five years and has participated in all five of his concerts.
“I have learned a lot about how to prepare for live performance through constant practice and personal style improvement,” Sam said. “The performances have helped to improve my stage presence and overall confidence in my skills.” As the players learn what to expect of each other, “we have become a real band.” In addition, he and his fellow performers “have all grown together through music and have become good friends through the years.”
He “cannot get enough” of these experiences, Sam added. “For me, music is at the center of my life, and these performances are so rewarding.”
Jay Goldberg, Sam’s father, said that in 2013, as his bar mitzvah was approaching, “Sam and his friend (guitarist) Josh Levine coordinated an ambitious charitable effort to raise $45,000 for Leket to add a 15-ton refrigerated truck for a year to its fleet. To achieve this goal, the two boys set out to record an 11-song cover music album, to be produced by Ben Hyman.
“Over the winter, Sam and Josh, at the time seventh-graders at the Moriah School in Englewood, spent a collective 75 hours in a local studio to record an album on behalf of Leket which they titled ‘Tikun Olam.’ The album, to date, has raised over $30,000.”
“Sam aspires to be a lifelong musical artist with a primary mission to use music as a form and forum for fixing our world,” Mr. Goldberg said. “He envisions a future when the world is unified through music and the endless diversity of its creativity and sound.”