No adults allowed (onstage): Harmony Concert shows off teen activism
A fundraiser for the COPE Center, $10
Presented by In Harmony Montclair
Thursday, Aug. 23, 7 p.m.
Central Presbyterian Church, 46 Park St.
By GWEN OREL
One of the best things about the Harmony Concert for its organizers is kicking out the adults.
Lori Borgen, mom of main organizer Maggie Borgen, said “I’m a roadie,” with a laugh. She’s inspired by seeing the kids doing the organizing and taking charge.
Many adults might want to be roadies. Because it is inspiring.
Maggie Borgen, 15, has been working to benefit mankind (it sounds like an exaggeration, but it really isn’t) since the summer before sixth grade.
Last Friday, she was holding a meeting and rehearsal at her home.
The Harmony Concert will have dozens of performers and techies of all ages. How many exactly? It wasn’t set yet. Kids come from Montclair, as well as other towns. The youngest is 10, while the oldest is 17.
The show includes dancing, singing, spoken monologues and comedy; flute, ukulele, guitar and cello. There are student-run stalls and a silent auction. It’s a true talent show. It’s the culminating event of a series of smaller concerts held during the year.
The concerts began, with co-organizer Lucy Solomon (who has since left the group), as the Imagine Concerts in 2015. Last year was the first year it was called the Harmony Concert.
The concerts always benefit a nonprofit organization. This year, the show will benefit the COPE Center (Counseling, Outreach, Prevention, Education), a Montclair-based organization that helps people overcome different challenges, including drugs and alcohol.
MAKING A CONNECTION
The group itself walks the walk of inclusiveness: there is no audition process. People practice their solo acts on their own, until tech week, when the program is tweaked. Group numbers rehearse together, which can be a little challenging in August, Maggie said with a laugh.
Harmony has an open space for people to explore, she said.“Going from middle school to the high school is a big jump, no matter what high school you go to. Suddenly every fish in the pond is in an ocean. And then you’re dealing with people who are 18, so they’re like adults! But not technically!” The kids at the rehearsal laughed. Bullying is the kind of stressor that therapy could help with, Maggie said, and why it’s important to support COPE.
Harmony’s goal is to raise $1,000. Last year, Harmony Concert raised $2,000 for the Interfaith Hospitality Network.
COPE Executive Director Sue Seidenfeld said that while her organization has a focus on substance abuse, in a larger sense it supports the social and emotional and mental health of the community.
“There’s a tremendous stigma, for both substance abuse and for mental health,” Seidenfeld said. “Some people don’t want to share their business with anybody else. There’s a lot of shame around it.”
She stressed that people may need help not only when mentally ill, but also when dealing with any stressor, including grief, anger management, coming out as transgender or gay, anxiety, or being a victim of bullying. And teens have a feeling of omnipotence, that “I don’t have to worry, that’s for old people,” feeling, while at the same time their brains are still developing.
“These are high school kids that are motivated,” Seidenfeld said. This is a great way to show teens that “here’s a real way to get involved and have fun without getting high. It’s a way to say, ‘look at what we’ve got going.’ Come out and see these kids.” COPE will be sending tickets to many of the kids they work with. “The connection is really important,” she said. Kids drift, she said. Making a reconnection to a healthy outlet can make a world of difference.
‘NOT JUST US PERFORMING’
Maggie is an activist and an idealist in other areas as well: she helped organize the “Code Red: Playwrights Against Gun Violence” performance at Luna Stage in West Orange last March. It is an anthology of short plays about school shootings created by a group of professional playwrights nationwide. She also helped organize performances of another group of plays dealing with gun violence and teens in New York City, “Not Just Another Statistic,” in April (this reporter’s play was included in that anthology).
Activism and the concert go “hand in hand,” Maggie said. “It’s a great way to bring out leadership skills that can be used in other places.”
Olivia North-Crotty said, a 14-year-old rising sophomore from Glen Ridge, said that “with all the violence going on, the best way to combat it is with the opposite. It’s not just us performing, it’s us trying to help other communities that need that help.”
Lora Juschenko, 15, sees a line between the school shootings that have inspired activism in teens and this concert. “I realized, ‘wow, this could happen to me. I’m not completely safe.’ It might have been one of the reasons subconsciously that I wanted to do this.”
Getting to work with friends in a supportive setting is a draw. North-Crotty joined the Harmony Concert after meeting Maggie Borgen. “It’s nice to find other people when you’re new,” she said.
Ten-year-old Quinn Dunkel warmed up the crowd of kids sitting around the dining room table in the Morgen home by telling jokes.
“What’s brown and sticky?”
It is the rising fifth-grader’s third time working on the concert. Quinn Dunkel has done her comedy act at school, but it wasn’t as much fun, because “adults ran it.” It’s more fun at Harmony because she has a bigger role. She’s also the head of lights, a job she loves.
“We don’t get as much power organizing things [at school],” said Morgan Dunkel, 13. “Maggie gives you so much responsibility.” She plays in the band at Renaissance Middle School, but only adults are allowed to work backstage, unlike the high school. “In Harmony concert, you can have any role you want,” Dunkel said.
That responsibility is good preparation for the future, said North-Crotty, perhaps as entrepreneurs or in any career. “It’s good at keeping us on our feet until school starts up again,” she said.
“It doesn’t feel like work. I get to see my friends, and I’m doing something good for other people,” said stage manager Sydney Dunkel, 15.
“One thing that’s really great is how much leadership everyone is taking,” Maggie said. Adults often tell her “this world is so messed up” and that the next generation better save us, she said with a laugh. “When you look around this table, I think we’re doing pretty well.”