Song’s Impact Hits All the Right Notes

Fingertips on ivory keys and smoky mist in the background as music cues louder. You can’t help but be transfixed by the emotional, evocative, powerful music unfolding before you.

Jake Berman performs from LifeTown

“I Am,” the Friendship Circle musical rendition, showcases people with special needs who are, as they sing on the screen, “one in a billion.”

Opening the song on piano is Justin Frey, whose talent may surprise some.

“Here’s this kid who we were told wasn’t going to be able to do anything and to watch him sit and play the piano, that’s the beauty of it,” said his mother, Genevieve Spielberg. “It’s a reminder that all these kids are capable of so much more than people give them credit for.”

The song and its accompanying video were mostly recorded at LifeTown, and debuted during the 2021 FC Cocktail Night. Based on a song first performed by Vinyl Hearts, the FC rendition of “I Am” focuses on the beauty that is inherent in each and every person.

“Who can argue with the message of the song,” said singer/songwriter Peter Himmelman, who is a supporter of Friendship Circle and “jumped” at a chance to participate. “It shares a truth about the human condition: We are all vitally important in G-d’s eyes.”

Sixteen-year-old Jake Berman, a Broadway actor who recorded the lead vocals and appears in the video, was also impressed by the powerful meaning behind the song. “I believe that the message of the song is extremely important and beautiful,” he said. “It definitely presents a powerful and important inspiration for people with special needs.”

Also participating in the “I Am” video was musician Peter Seymour and Grammy-award winning jazz musician Dave Koz, an old friend of Spielberg’s.

On social media, Koz told his fans about Friendship Circle, LifeTown and the video, saying he was “very honored to be part of this video, ‘I Am,’ which celebrates every person’s unique contribution to the tapestry of life” and called LifeTown “a place of daily miracles.”

He included a link to the “I Am” video, which has been viewed tens of thousands of times. Said one of his fans after watching it, “I love this more than almost anything else that I have seen you participate in Dave. Having a stepdaughter that is 24/7 special needs, this really hits home.”

While another Koz fan wrote on his Facebook page, “Having a younger sibling that’s mentally and physically challenged, it’s wonderful to see videos like this showing the unique qualities that these beautiful can contribute.”

‘Everybody is Somebody’

Recording a song and making a video are never simple, but trying to get it done with a short time frame—under four weeks—and during a pandemic presented a unique wrinkle for producer Dovid Weinbaum.

“There were definitely challenges because of Covid and we would have liked to have done a lot more,” said Weinbaum, a Chabad emissary on Long Island who has produced several large-scale communal events both in person and online. “For example, because some kids with special needs have underlying medical conditions, we had to have them come in one at a time to LifeTown to record their parts.”

Weinbaum immediately reached out to colleagues he knew he could rely on to help with the video. One of the people he contacted was Israel Portnoy, who works in the music industry in Israel. Portnoy put together the children’s choir and worked with them on recording the lyrics from the Holy Land.

Also involved in the recording were Berke Krinsky, Rivkin Media and MG InFocus.

Berman who came to LifeTown for the video shoot said he was “absolutely blown away by the center and the happiness that it brings. It was such an amazing experience to see the place and learn about it.”

As for Weinbaum, who has a nephew who is on the autism spectrum and just “an amazing person,” he said the one moment of the video that has stuck with him is when FC participant Sami is walking down the street in LifeTown and delivers the song’s main message, “Everybody is somebody that no one else can be.”

“That to me brought everything together, that line in the video,” he said. “We need this message to get out there and this video to get there so people can see how special we all are. That will make a big impact.”

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