From John Farrell
Autumn 2005
Greetings Friends,

The changing of seasons is, as always, a time for reflection. This year has brought all of us many new experiences and images to contemplate. Around the world, and here in America, there has been and continues to be much suffering and hardship. Given the incredible natural resources, and magnificent human resources our planet has produced it’s hard to understand why there is so much man made misery. Still, in spite of appalling tragedies and enormous adversity the human spirit remains resilient, hopeful, and loving. The vast majority of people everywhere wish to live in peace and to conduct their lives in ways that serve one another and the common good. Even though the greedy few continue to do great damage to the earth and her children they can never extinguish the fiery human spirit that strives for peace, love, and justice. This spirit, which is in all of us, is reason for song and celebration as we head toward the shortest days of the year. I hope this message finds you enjoying the beauty of the natural world around you -- and the beauty of the people around you too. Autumn truly is an amazing time of year.


In September I boarded an airplane in New York City and 21 hours later (via Amsterdam) set my feet down in the Southern Hemisphere (for the first time) in Capetown, South Africa. In the next twelve days I drove over 3000 km (close to 2000 miles), visited four schools, sang with hundreds of students and adults, and attended a delightful educational conference for teachers. I also saw stars and constellations I had never seen before, photographed warthogs, zebras, ostriches, right whales, kudus, springboks, rhinoceros, and other species I had never even heard of before -- and I went swimming in the Indian Ocean. I visited a factory where African musical instruments are made (, heard some great music, made some new friends, had tea with an impoverished family in one of the townships (shanty towns), got locked in a game reserve after dark, climbed Table Mt. near Capetown, and jumped off the Bloukrans Bridge, the world’s highest bungee jump. It is 216 meters (708 ft) high. It seemed like a lifetime in twelve days.

All of these experiences were memorable but the highlight of the trip was spending a few days with our daughter Katie who is studying in South Africa for a semester. Katie and I went on a night safari in Addo National Park. We saw lions, Cape buffalo, hyenas, elephants and more. I visited her residence hall and the hospital where she volunteers, and met some of her new friends. We also talked for hours as we drove around together on the other side of the world, on the other side of the road too. A highlight for Katie was learning to drive a stick shift, left handed no less. By the way, Katie jumped off the Bloukrans Bridge the day before I did. She was with a group of Boston College friends and other international students. Her enthusiasm inspired me to try it too. I’m glad I did.

A poignant moment for both of us came when I told Katie that her Uncle Jack, my brother- in-law, had passed away two days earlier. The two of us were crying together as we drove through the glorious landscape of the Garden Route, 10,000 miles from home. Jack Dingee, a fine landscape artist, who had a great curiosity and zest for life, would’ve enjoyed the scenery. The only regrets I had regarding the trip were that Ann Marie, Jack (our son), Maggie, Colleen and Patrick couldn’t be there, and that I wasn’t home for my brother-in-law Jack’s memorial service. He’s the first of our generation in the family to die. We will miss him a lot.


My time in South Africa left me with many impressions and memories. Here are a few of them;

The dramatic and awesome natural beauty of South Africa's mountains, oceans, rainforest, grasslands, and other habitats is breathtakingly inspiring. The rich diversity of animals and plants kept me on constant lookout hoping to see something familiar or to discover something new and unexpected. Monkeys, baboons, and ostriches are common on the roadside in certain areas and the birdlife is splendid too.

The gorgeous faces and pure smiles of the children and adults I met each day warmed me from head to toe and tickled my heart. In spite of great challenges and problems facing post apartheid South Africa the commitment and hopefulness of the people there is incredibly uplifting and promising. There is an excitement and optimism in the air that you can feel.

There is music in the air in South Africa too. Even though I didn’t get to hear as much of it as I would have liked, what I did hear was terrific. It was clear that rhythm, melody, and harmony are essential strands in the fabric of peoples lives.

These wonders and more are etched into my memories of South Africa, but there were also some immensely disturbing aspects to what I saw and how I felt.


The most striking (and shocking) images I left with were the ones that drew attention to the breadth and depth of the poverty, and the horror of the HIV / AIDS epidemic that continues to rage in South Africa. Before going there I only knew a little bit about the townships from news reports and movies, and I had some sense that HIV / AIDS continued to be a problem, but didn’t know to what extent. I’m a person who doesn’t comprehend things well through other peoples’ lenses. I often have to see with my own eyes to begin to understand. What I saw I don’t pretend to understand but I will never forget it.

It is estimated that between 500,000 and 1,000,000 people live in the townships near Cape Town. That’s just the Cape Town area. There are shantytowns near every population center I saw, and I only traveled along the southern coast of this vast country.

If you would like to see some dramatic and lovely photos depicting life in one of Cape Town’s townships go to Sue Johnson’s web site by clicking on the link below. (You may have to hold CTRL and click to go to the photos. When you get to Sue’s home page click on “Enter Exhibit” at the bottom of the page.)

Photo #2 “Khayelitsha” is representative of many of the dwellings I saw as I drove by any urban population center. Most of the poor in South Africa live like this. If you’ve read this far you may also be interested in more information about the townships or shantytowns. Sue has written an essay that tells much more than I can. She lived in and took many photos of the township and its people. Click on to read how and why the shantytowns came into existence, and continue to exist. The essay isn't long and is well written.

The horrid living conditions that poverty creates are further compounded by the mind boggling extent of the AIDS epidemic. It is estimated that more than 6,000,000 people are living with HIV /AIDS in South Africa. Some researchers report that as many as 40-50% of sexually active adults are HIV positive. These figures seem impossible to us here in America to comprehend but they are a reality to those living with AIDS. Unemployment is rampant with estimates ranging from 30 to over 60% of the poor people unemployed.

Seeing the living conditions I saw, and then learning some of the statistics I have mentioned, caused me to wonder; How can so many of these people seem to be so loving and content? I don’t know the answer and my opinion is only based on what I saw and experienced, not on any studies. My guess though is that it has to do with living one day at a time, loving and caring for each other, and truly appreciating the simplest gifts.


While I was traveling around the countryside I had the chance to visit two townships. The first was near Stormsrivier on the Garden Route, a scenic drive along the southern coast. Katie and I drove through this shantytown on a Sunday morning. It wasn't far from a youth hostel where Katie had stayed the night before. The people we saw were friendly and welcoming. We stopped and talked with a lovely woman named Isabelle outside her home. She beamed when we complimented her on her flowers and the lace curtains in her window.

The second visit was in Bredasdorp, a city not far from Cape Agulhas, the southernmost tip of Africa. I was with Amore Amsterdam, a 12 yr old girl, and Andeline, her 65 yr old grandmother. I picked them up hitchhiking and they said they were going to Caledon, a city where one of Andeline’s daughters lived. When I told them I was going to Cape Agulhas they decided to come with me since Andeline had two other daughters who lived in Bredasporp. Bredasdorp is about 50 miles from Caledon but I was thrilled that they decided to come with me.

When we arrived at the township I was unsure if I should drop them off or drive over the railroad tracks and go in, but they invited me to have a cup of tea at Amore’s Aunt Gaily’s house and I agreed. As we were walking the short distance from the road to the house I stopped and gave an apple to an elderly woman sitting on a wooden box. When we got inside Gaily’s house the old woman shouted something to the neighbors in her language, which is called Xhosa (pronounced Ko-sa). Andeline, who spoke some English, told me that the old woman had called out to her friends, “This is my lucky day!” because I had given her an apple. Andeline herself had earlier told Amore “This is your lucky day!” when I gave Amore a copy of my CD “Oh Yeah!”

This phrase “This is your lucky day!” was repeated again to me by a parking attendant I met in Capetown at Table Mountain. I told him I was writing a song by that name and that I would put him in the song. When I asked him what his name was he pointed to his name badge, (and I swear this is true) his name was “Lucky.” The song, “This is My Lucky Day,” is about the amazing people we can meet everyday, if we remember to take time to try.

When I entered Amore’s aunts home it was hard for me to believe how small it was. It was tiny by American standards, probably about two-thirds the size of a typical one car garage here in the U.S. In spite of being so small it was well kept and they welcomed me with love and generosity. When Gaily made the tea she didn’t make any for them, just for me. I gave them the rest of the bag of apples and some cookies I had and they were very thankful. After I drank my tea Aunt Gaily looked warily at her mother and then asked me if I had any cigarettes. She seemed embarrassed when she asked but she really wanted to smoke and didn’t have any money to buy cigarettes. I don't smoke and couldn't give her what she asked for but when I left I did give Andeline the small amount of money I had in my pocket. The mixed emotions I was feeling then were with me often during my time in South Africa.

Before I left I wrote down Amore’s address and I plan to write to her and I hope to stay in touch with her and her family. Her mom is a guitarist and teacher in a government school in Swellendam. I hope to meet and visit with her, Amore, Andeline, and Gaily again some day. I left them feeling it had been my lucky day.


The stark contrast of the gloriously serene natural beauty of South Africa beside the mind numbing conditions poverty has created make it a place and a time that will be impossible for me to forget. While I was there I experienced a complete color wheel of feelings. I felt exhilarated and sad, I felt adventurous and fearful, I felt generous and greedy, I felt troubled and hopeful, I felt enlightened and ignorant, I felt open-minded and prejudiced, and I felt anxious and relaxed. At times I couldn’t distinguish which contrasting feeling I was experiencing. There is so much need but there is also so much joy.

I think the most enduring impressions of all the ones I have mentioned will be my recollections of the smiles I received from the children I met, very poor children and well-off children alike. Their smiles made me feel blessed and grateful. They gave me gifts that came with no strings attached; they gave me the gift of knowing that they cared about me. Their smiles, laughter, and songs reaffirmed what I already knew from laughing and singing with so many other children and adults in other places, and that is that we are all in this together. No outward differences we may perceive can ever outweigh the inner bonds we share. We are all brothers and sisters and these are all of our children. It is true that many of them are the children of poverty, ignorance and disease, but they are also the children of love, hope and dreams, and above all they are the children of the earth. They are our children.

I’ll close this part of this journal with a short anecdote. Early one evening, just as it was getting dark, I picked up a mom and two young children hitchhiking. At first when I stopped they were tentative about getting in the car. (Maybe they had heard that Americans were dangerous) When I smiled at them they smiled back at me. They accepted my offer and happily climbed in the back seat. I had bought some Cadbury chocolate bars to bring home to NY. The chocolate was very delicious in S. Africa. I gave one of them to the children, Justin and Felicia. Before dropping them off where they were going, I asked the mom if I could take their picture. She agreed and in each of the three pictures taken Justin is holding the chocolate bar up in the picture and he and Felicia are grinning from ear to ear as though they had has just received a precious gift.

I’m sure that chocolate wasn’t the most nutritious food I could have offered them but that smile was the most nutritious thanks I could’ve received. I look forward to returning to South Africa and trying to connect in a deeper and more meaningful way with more children like Amore, Justin, Felicia, and the hundreds of others I sang with in schools in Grahamstown and Grabouw.

To view photos from John's trip click this button:


My trip to South Africa was a wake up call and an inspiration. I was touched deeply by my experiences and want to do something to help. Given the fact that I have been fortunate to travel to many schools and meet teachers from schools all around the world I have decided to start a program that will use music, writing, and art to connect people in different places. The goals will be that we can learn more about each other, seek ways to help each other, and celebrate our rich diversity while affirming our common needs, dreams, and desires to live in peace.

I have registered a new web site which will be accessed at When it is ready to go online the web site will be a place where children and adults from schools around the world can go to listen to music, introduce themselves to each other, share their writing and feelings, and learn about others. There will be music from some of my songs available for downloading, and I hope to have others give their music too. There will be opportunities for children (or classes of children) to find pen pals in other countries. There will be opportunities for children to submit poetry, stories and artwork that may be viewed by others. I hope to have links to recommended sites that promote peace, understanding, and learning. In time I would like to support or start a project that will help needy children in South Africa, and elsewhere if we can.

This idea is just a seed at the moment but a tremendous interest has been expressed by many teachers in many places. It will take time to get it up and running and it will require help from others. If you would like to be a part of “A Bridge of Peace” please email me at
[email protected] and send a message asking that your name and email address be added to our list of interested individuals. I’ll use this information to compile a mailing list and keep you informed as to what you can do to help.

The first two songs to go on the web site will be “If I Wasn’t Me I Might Be You,” and “A Bridge of Peace.” The latter features very simple lyrics and will include hand motions, sign language and movement. I am hoping to have it translated into as many languages as possible. If any of you can help with this to please contact me at the email address above. The lyrics are;

We are walking, we are walking, we are walking a bridge of peace
We are walking, walking, walking, we are walking a bridge of peace

We are singing, we are singing, we are singing a bridge of peace
We are singing, walking, singing, we are singing a bridge of peace

We are dancing, we are dancing, we are dancing a bridge of peace
We are dancing, walking, singing, we are dancing a bridge of peace

When we record the song we will leave several instrumental passes so you can add your own language or write your own lyrics.


We will be making changes to the web site, updating the overall look of things and making some additions too. There will be a photo gallery with pictures from South Africa and other places. There will also be new activity pages to accompany some of the songs, workshop handouts, and study guides to go with school programs. Numerous requests for sheet music have been duly noted and that also is on the "to do" list.

SEASON OF LIGHT, HOPE AND PEACE CD at $12 each or 3 for $30

Thanksgiving and the holidays are right around the corner and many friends have told me that the "Season of Light, Hope and Peace" CD has brought much joy and warmth to their family celebrations. To thank you for your support we are offering this CD at a special price to people who receive this newsletter. (Writing this feels strange; it sounds just like a commercial. Sorry about that!) At the expense of sounding even more like a commercial I'd like to suggest that music makes a great gift for holidays, birthdays, or just to let someone special know you’re thinking of them. (Imagine inspirational music playing as you read this)

If you would like to order CD's for just $12 each or 3 for $30 please call Mary Jain at 1-800-928-4007. Price includes shipping and Mary Jain is fantastic. She'll probably ship the CD's within 24 hours, or maybe even sooner. She lives within walking distance of the post office and has been known to go there several times in one day. She's the best!

If you are unfamiliar with songs on the CD you can listen to portions of three songs at the web site The lyrics, guitar chords and teaching suggestions are also on the site. The songs featured are; "One by One," "It's Snowing!" and "Dear Santa."


As always thanks. What I do doesn’t work without help and I’ve been blessed with kind and generous friends. I'd also like to wish you a peaceful, healthy and thoughtful Thanksgiving and holiday season. I'll try to write another (shorter) newsletter before the year ends.

Keep a song in your heart!

Peace, Love and Music,


P.S. If you would like to unsubscribe from this email list please send an email to
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2005 Hope River Music
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