© 2019 Christine Elise

Stamford's Pop Music Academy Showcase a Fundraiser for Hope in Harmony

by Evan Simko-Bednarski on January 19, 2016 via StamfordAdvocate

Photos by Michael Cummo / Hearst Connecticut Media

STAMFORD — Christine Occhino has been raising money for music therapy the past three years. The owner of The Pop Music Academy on Hope Street, Occhino donated money raised at her school’s annual showcase to the Bennett Cancer Center’s music therapy program. 

Now, as the head of a new nonprofit, Hope in Harmony, Occhino hopes to bring the healing power of music to those in need throughout the community.

“When we were donating to the cause, it was great. But there’s something to be said for being physically in the trenches,” Occhino said.

While Hope in Harmony will not provide certified music therapy, its volunteers will bring music to patients beyond the cancer center, aiming to bring joy to those suffering from various ailments.

Musicians will play for patients in long-term or hospice care, privately in their rooms or in public areas. Occhino said she also hoped to add a teaching component to Hope in Harmony, and envisioned music teachers bringing patients small instruments - ukuleles or bongos that volunteers would leave behind.

Music can be healing, she said, "if you're sitting there in bed and all you have is the beeps of the machines or the IV drip."

Occhino cited the Bennet Cancer Center's music therapy program as an inspiration.

"For whatever reason the brain processes music differently," she said.

For some patients, the effect of music is immediately apparent, she said. "They just light up smiling."

A graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston who grew up singing benefit concerts in her native Stamford, Occhino started the Pop Music Academy in 2012 as an alternative to the region's many classical music schools. 

Her students then show off their skills at the academy's annual showcase, performing with a professional back-up band at a red-carpet affair attended by music industry representatives.

This year, all of the showcase proceeds will go toward getting Hope in Harmony off the ground.

"The goal is $10,000," she said. I feel like that's ambitious, but not impossible."

In addition to ticket sales, Occhino hopes to reach her goal by raffling off donations from area businesses that have pledged to support the project. She hopes to have enough to launch the organization in the spring. 

In the meantime, Occhino encouraged the community to attend Saturday's showcase at Westhill High School, promising a top-notch night of entertainment.

"People think of recitals as a boring kids' show," she said, "but the kids are highly trained, there are professional musicians - we make sure the lineup is something people want to hear."

And all that music is for a good cause.

"There's something for everyone," Occhino said.