Her CD gives voice to charity

Severna Park teen records holiday carols to raise funds for displaced Ugandan children

December 16, 2007|By SUSAN GVOZDAS | SUSAN GVOZDAS,Special to The Sun

Barbara Simpson had pestered her 17-year-old daughter to record the carols that she sings every Christmas Eve service at Our Shepherd Lutheran Church in Severna Park.

Churchgoers had started asking Laura Simpson if she planned to record.

But Laura didn't seem interested, until her mother suggested that she sell the CDs to raise money for a charity.

"Then, in her mind, there was a reason to do it," Simpson said.

Now, what started as a holiday keepsake for the proud Severna Park mother has turned into a fundraiser for displaced children in war-torn Uganda.

After reading about the efforts of Invisible Children Inc. to help Ugandan children who were abducted and forced to fight in a rebel army, Laura has recorded a full-length CD of Christmas songs called "Visible Christmas."

It features 11 contemporary and traditional holiday favorites, including "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel" and "The Christmas Song." The CD's cover features a photo of an African boy in white robes, with the name of the disc spelled out in bright yellow letters. Laura did not want a picture of herself on the CD, but relented after her mother insisted she include a small photo inside with a letter about the cause.

"I just thought it would be weird and make it seem like it was more about me," Laura said.

So far, she has raised more than $800 selling the CDs for $12 each in between services at Our Shepherd. All of the proceeds will go to the nonprofit because friends donated their time to produce the CD, Laura said.

Any money not set aside for a specific program will be split between awareness efforts and field programs, said Lindsay Whelchel, an intern with Invisible Children. The San Diego organization has been raising money to distribute documentaries about the children and to rebuild their schools.

"We love to see kids using what they love, whether that be music or politics, to effect positive change," Whelchel said.

Many of the grass-roots fundraisers generate small amounts, but when they are put together, they pack a powerful punch, Whelchel said. Invisible Children raised $1.2 million through its "Schools for Schools" campaign, which enlists the help of high schools and colleges to help Ugandan schools. So far, a dozen schools in Maryland have raised money for the cause, including Arundel High School in Gambrills. That school donated $500, according to Invisible Children's Web site.

Our Shepherd Pastor Kathy Morris said that the church council allowed an advertisement of the CD in its bulletin. Morris also mentioned it in church announcements.

"She is a very talented girl, so there has been a lot of excitement to get a CD," Morris said.

Laura doesn't, however, intend to pursue a career in music. She plans to pursue a pre-med major and hopes to get into the University of Virginia or the University of North Carolina. Singing will remain a hobby, she said.

Laura, who can sing alto or mezzo-soprano, is a member of her church choir, as well as three ensembles at Archbishop Spalding High School in Severn. She has gone on mission trips with her church youth group to build a soup kitchen in the Bahamas in 2005 and work on Habitat for Humanity homes in West Virginia in 2006.

Recording of the CD was done in the Frederick studio of Mike Nunez, a longtime family friend. The church's music director, Mary-Jo Bedsworth, played piano for the CD. Bedsworth and Nunez laid down the piano tracks one weekend in November, and Laura followed on two weekends to sing over the tracks. Nunez said he used software to adjust the piano sound to be in a lower key for Laura. Then he overlaid other instrumental sounds on top.

Nunez, an amateur guitar player, said he and Barbara Simpson used to sing together at coffeehouses. He said it has been fun listening to the similarities in her and her daughter's voices.

"[Laura] has her mom's vibrato," Nunez said.

Bedsworth has directed Laura since she was in second grade and a member of the junior choir. Laura and a friend took over as directors of the junior choir when Bedsworth cut back on her choir activities at the church.

"She was always my little soloist," Bedsworth said. "She's young, and she's talented."

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