Musician blends cultures in Bethel recording
By Marietta Homayonpour
November 1, 2005

BETHEL – There's a universal language, says John Farrell, and it's understood from America to Spain to South Africa to Japan.

That language is music and Farrell – a 54-year-old Brewster, N.Y., singer, songwriter and author – uses music to bring people together.

For 15 years, Farrell has taken songs and stories of peace, love and tolerance to classrooms and educational seminars around the world from Canada to Europe to Asia.

His latest endeavor is a song called "We Are Walking a Bridge of Peace."

Farrell on Monday brought together eight young students from a multicultural Bronx school and 11 men from a South African singing group to record the song at the Walnut Hill Community Church in Bethel.

"I had this dream of finding a way for people in one part of the world to understand people in other parts," Farrell said. "Children in particular, but not just children. Music and stories are the universal way of expressing our desires and concerns."

Farrell wrote the song in the spring, but a recent trip to South Africa, where he visited his daughter, spurred him to record the song both on audio and video.
The News-Times/Michael Duffy
John Farrell brought students and singers together in Bethel Monday to record a song called "We Are Walking a Bridge of Peace."
"It all came together when I went to South Africa," Farrell said. He saw the terrible poverty as well as the tragedy of an AIDS epidemic. He was especially moved by the children orphaned because of the disease.

The recording of the song – in English, Spanish and Zulu – also has instrumentals so anyone in any country can adapt it to their language.
The News-Times/Michael Duffy
John Farrell of Brewster, N.Y., sings with the South African group Thula Sizwe at the Walnut Hill Community Church Monday in Bethel.

Farrell plans to make the recording part of his larger project called A Bridge of Peace. His newsletter goes to more than 1,200 people – mainly teachers – and he attends educational conferences around the world. The song, and others to follow, also will be available for downloading on the Internet through Farrell's Web site.

Farrell's hope is "We Are Walking a Bridge of Peace" and the overall project will make adults and children aware of the difficulties that many people face because of poverty and illness. He also hopes the project will lead to a greater effort to bring more resources to South African children orphaned by AIDS.

"We will attempt to accomplish these goals through listening to and singing songs, writing poetry, stories, and letters, and other forms of artistic expression, including drawings, paintings, and photography," Farrell said.

Students from the Theater Arts Production Company Middle and High School in the Bronx came to Bethel to make the recording.

The New York City public school, said teacher and choral director Eugenia Swinson, is about five-years-old and its students are predominantly Caribbean, Latino and African.

"It's a song of hope, joy," 11-year-old Alora Martinez said of the simple, lively tune. "It says be grateful of what you've got, have fun."
The News-Times/Michael Duffy
Students from the Theater Arts Production Company Middle and High School in the Bronx sing with John Farrell of Brewster, N.Y., center, at the Walnut Hill Community Church Monday in Bethel.

For 12-year-old Delicia Myvett – who said "singing makes you feel good inside" – the song is about being happy and "proud of what you do." Delicia was happy for another reason on Monday. "I'm excited because I've never recorded a song before."

The South African group Thula Sizwe, formed in 1986, has recorded before. Director Abel Dlamini said the group's Zulu name means "hush and listen."

Thula Sizwe sings love songs, gospel songs and other songs in both English and Zulu. The group has been on a two-month tour of the East Coast and heads back home next week.

Farrell first saw Thula Sizwe only two weeks ago, shortly after he returned from South Africa. The group was performing at the Wooster School in Danbury – where Farrell's wife is a teacher – and Farrell asked if they would record his song.

The group quickly agreed. "We do it," Dlamini said, "to help the AIDS orphans in South Africa. Together we can do something."

Farrell heard about the Bronx middle school children through a friend, the same way he learned of the recording space available at Walnut Hill Community Church. The church's large worship center, with its good acoustics and lighting, provided the right spot for the audio and visual shoot.

And the church was glad to help, communications director Lisa Siedleki said. "God's given us this amazing facility," Siedleki said, "and any time we can make it available for someone using it for global good, we are glad to do it."