Music Is Letting Their Light Shine

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December 10, 2023

6 min read

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The Friendship Circle Band spreads light in the darkness.

In a recording studio, guys grab their instruments. Drum sticks hit a snare. Fingers fly over the frets on a guitar and on the black and white keys of a piano. Vocalists wear headphones as they sing out their song. It’s a familiar scene, one that has appeared in many music videos over the years, but this time, something is different. In the Friendship Circle (FC) Band, some members have disabilities and playing is a life-changing experience.

Music has always been a welcome outlet for Alan. He started taking piano lessons when he was a child, and while life with a disability has its share of challenges, those challenges didn’t stop him from becoming an accomplished pianist. Another great outlet was hanging out at the Friendship Circle of Cleveland, an organization that brings together people of all ages with and without disabilities come to hang out, have fun and find out how much they really have in common. Through their extensive programming, Friendship Circle creates an inclusive community that values all people, no matter which challenges they face.

When Rabbi Yosef Peysin, the Program Director for the Teens, and member of the Rogers Park Band, had the idea to start a band with the guys, it was a no-brainer that Alan was going to be in it.

“Often, people use the word inclusion to refer to bringing people with or without disabilities together,” Rabbi Peysin says. “I prefer to use the word integration. We're all part of the same whole, so it's not including someone else into my world, but rather it's both of us coming into a complete whole. Jewish tradition teaches us that we're one body. If any one of us is missing, it doesn't just take away from them, it takes away from the completeness of the whole. We all feel a strong sense of identity of who we are, and we all want to make a difference. Each person feels like they have a unique thing a unique light to shine.”

On the keyboard and as a vocalist for the FC Band, Alan has found a whole new outlet to shine his light. Since the band was founded in 2022, the band has performed at many different Friendship Circle events in Cleveland and surrounding cities. They have also expanded their horizons, traveling to both coasts for performances.

In additional to becoming a bit of a celebrity at the events he plays for, Alan has also become a role model for other teens. He travelled to Charlotte, North Carolina, with Rabbi Peysin to perform at the grand opening of a new Friendship Circle location. Together, they invited some of the Charlotte participants to perform along with them, and Alan did a duet with one of their singers.

“It was the most beautiful thing,” says Rabbi Peysin. “Two people with their different disabilities, and they were able to hold a room for 25 minutes – playing music, making jokes and having banter. It was amazing.” Alan is now thriving at a local college where he’s majoring in music performance.

Alan’s best friend, Josh, who also has a disability, often hung out with the guys in the band. Being in the band wasn’t even remotely on his radar, but when the drummer for the band backed out shortly before they were set to record their first music video, Alan asked Josh to sit in on the drums. He didn’t really consider himself a drummer, but was willing to help his friend out. That favor led to Josh permanently joining the band. He went home and told his mother with pride, “Mom, I’m a drummer.”

He started taking drum lessons every week, and also showed an interested in songwriting. “He’s written at least three songs,” says Rabbi Peysin.

“I never thought I would be in a band,” Josh says, “But with these bandmates, I kind of feel like I can do anything.”

The impact on Josh’s life extended beyond the musical experience. He decided he wanted to run the 5K marathon, which meant staying motivated through three months of training. “To keep himself focused while running, he liked talking about different countries on the map,” remembers Rabbi Peysin. “The whole 5K he was keeping up that conversation and he made a whole bunch of friends as a result. The impact on his fitness, his ability to stick to a goal, to work through it and stay focused, it’s amazing.”

That feeling of confidence drew Alex, another Friendship Circle participant with a disability to the FC band. As the band was packing up all their gear on the way to record their first music video, Alex said, “Hey, I want to be part of this!” Even though he had never played any instruments or anything before, the guys found a spot for him as a stage hype man, standing at the front of the stage and getting the crowd excited for the concert.

“The social connection with the guys gave him the confidence to join the band and to get up on stage. This past May he performed in front of 500 people at the FC big gala. He has his amazing way of interaction and connection, and he gets to shine in that way as a performer and as part of the group,” says Rabbi Peysin. Alex recently started singing for the band, bringing his infectious enthusiasm to their newest release, It’s Gonna Get Lit. “If you don’t give up, keep on doing it, and you can get things right,” says Alex. “Don’t ever give up.”

Rabbi Yosef Peysin

“The parents have been so incredibly grateful, every step of the way, to see their kids shine,” says Rabbi Peysin. Because of the FC Band, other people are now able to see how beautiful the lights of Josh, Alex and Alan shine, which has been deeply gratifying for their parents, and inspiring for those who enjoy their performances.

“This is what Hanukkah is about - that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of loneliness or darkness,” says Peysin.

“Our song is about getting lit with everyone, people with and without disabilities to create great music,” say Alan and Josh. “It is to have positivity for people with and without disabilities in order to make a friend forever,” says Alan.

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Naomi Jacobs
Naomi Jacobs
5 months ago

Wonderful life changing music,thankyou

Yosef
Yosef
5 months ago

What a wonderful story! Adds real light..

Dana
Dana
5 months ago

Absolutely excellent!! So inspiring in these dark times - carry on putting out such positive vibes!

Judy
Judy
5 months ago

this is AWESOME!!
Now I know the story behind what my Spotify plays me!
Keep spreading that light!

Roz
Roz
5 months ago

How wonderful!!! this will cheer people up and is so inspiring..In atime of so much hate hopefully this will bring people together.

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