A three-part reflection by Rachel Ebeling, co-founder of Angel Band Project
The snow is falling peacefully and the hum of the furnace keeps me warm in my office. Sitting in this front room, surrounded by windows that let the light of day shine through so that everything around me has stunning clarity, is one of the main reasons why I chose this space for Angel Band Project.
In the next room, Tim Butz is being interviewed by a local reporter for a St. Louis news station. He is one of Teresa’s 8 brothers. Tim is a year and a half older than Teresa. He was the sibling I probably knew the best, because he and Teresa were really tight.
Jean had spent the weekend before the attacks with Teresa in Chicago. Teresa and Jen stayed with her and they had a fantastic time. By chance, Tim happened to be in Chicago as well and got to see Teresa at a Cubs game that weekend too. It was that next Sunday that I had to call Jean and tell her, over the phone, that Teresa was murdered. I wish I could forget that phone call. She still had leftovers in her fridge from carryout they ordered. It was unreal to her, that this happened.
When Teresa and Jen were attacked, we were shaken to the core and tried in vain to figure out, quite simply, how to go on. Teresa’s immediate exit out of this world left a void in our hearts. The weeks after the attacks were rather chaotic. One minute I was so angry, another I was sobbing with grief. We would gather and just sit together, listening to music that reflected our emotional state. Or reminded us of her. Patty Griffin, Barbara Streisand, Michael Jackson. Music was a salve, a safe place to find comfort. And then there was her fiancée Jen. Trying to heal from her own stab wounds, to grieve, and to regain some sense of purpose to all that had happened. Jen and Teresa’s brothers Norbert and Tony were in Seattle, the rest of us were in St. Louis. Just hurting and praying and coping with the loss.
A few weeks later, Jean called me with the idea to make a benefit album. We decided to approach the Butz family to see if they would be willing to sing music, record themselves, and help us make a record to support survivors of sexual violence. Because, as Teresa’s sister-in-law Angie whispered to us at Teresa’s gravesite, “They are Butz’s. They breathe in song.” We also asked Jen Hopper to be involved. As an accomplished singer and a survivor herself, as well as the fiancée of her beloved Teresa, we wanted her to join in as much as she wanted to. And she jumped in 120%.
The Angel Band Project … we chose the name because of the refrain from an old spiritual.
“Oh come, Angel Band.
Come and around me stand.
Oh carry me away on your snowy white wings
to my immortal home.”
Angels. Bands of them. Seemed like a fitting name for an organization whose mission would be to surround survivors of sexual violence with support and help them heal through music. With one in five women being raped in the U.S. during her lifetime, the need to help them is great.
Today, we use music to break the silence surrounding this issue while also directly helping survivors through music therapy programs. Because rape is a hard thing to talk about. And music is a vehicle that makes it easier to discuss. And for survivors, it gives them a voice.
Eli Sanders’ book is also creating a forum for discussion about a major element that led to this crime in 2009. Mental illness. Isaiah Kalebu, the perpetrator of the crimes against Teresa and Jen, suffered from severe mental illness throughout much of his life. As a poor, African- American male, the public mental health system was not equipped to support him. As Eli Sanders states in his book, the mental health system was in “a state of collapse.” So, the violent tendencies that were concerning to his family were misdiagnosed and left untreated. He refused to take his medications, which eventually escalated into full distress and criminal activity, ultimately driving him to rape and commit murder on that summer night in Seattle.
The snow is slowing down, the sun has set, and the sky is now dark. What will happen while we sleep?
Tomorrow is another opportunity for someone to read this book and reflect on the system that is failing the mentally ill in our country. We simply must do better, America.
A three-part reflection by Rachel Ebeling, co-founder of Angel Band Project
Yesterday, February 2, 2016, a new book was released by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Eli Sanders. “While the City Slept” traces the lives of the three people whose lives tragically intersected on July 19, 2009. Jennifer Hopper, Teresa Butz, and Isaiah Kalebu. This is not a new story for us, by any means, because I had the pleasure of growing up with feisty Teresa in south St. Louis in the 1970s. We met on the first day of kindergarten at St. Stephen’s Protomartyr Catholic School. Wearing freshly pressed red plaid jumpers and wearing little ties around our necks that snapped under our white collars, three 6 year olds were introduced into kindergarten by Mrs. Lang. Teresa Butz, Jean Haegele, and Rachel Rankin. Little did we know on that first day where our friendship would take us.
Teresa was number 9 in a family of 11 children. In the 70’s, we experienced freedoms that are certainly not a part of childhood in the new millennium. We walked to school, walked home for lunch, hung out at the quick shop after school without any care that we needed to be home to show our parents we were still alive, wandered the neighborhood like banshees. We walked to the movie theater on Friday nights, snuck into R movies, hocked cigarettes from older siblings, and held dance parties late at night when Teresa’s parents were out of town. Not that we were bad kids. We were normal kids full of curiosity about our world, our boundaries, ourselves.
Jean, Teresa and I channeled our tendencies for getting into trouble in three healthier ways: 1) speech meets 2) school plays 3) sports. Jean and I were much better at numbers 1 and 2 than 3; Teresa was actually good at all 3. But these extracurriculars led us to discover that we really liked each other, and could have good clean fun anywhere we wanted. Performing in front of an audience was our specialty, and running around the softball field after Teresa would hit a grand slam made us feel great. So a grade school friendship turned into a continuing high school bond that eventually felt more like a sisterhood. If something great, or devastating, or heartbreaking occurred, it was Jean or Butz that got my phone call.
As many of us all know, Teresa was raped and murdered in her home in the early morning hours of July 19, 2009. She was in love with Jennifer Hopper, and the two were planning to get married in September that year. But that was not to be, because Teresa died of the stab wounds to her chest after jumping out a window to escape their attacker. Jen was also raped and stabbed repeatedly, but survived.
It’s been almost 6 1/2 years since this heinous tragedy occurred. In some ways it feels like no time has passed, but other times I feel like it’s been longer. I miss her shrieks of glee, her infectious smile, her crazy laugh, her thunderous clap. I miss her sappy cards and her long-winded letters. All of the inside jokes and smiles that friendship for 35 years brings to life.
Eli has taken great care to tell the story of Teresa, Jen, and Isaiah Kalebu and what made them tick. He analyzes the breakdown in our country’s mental health system, and perhaps if more attention had to been given to Isaiah’s troubled mental state much sooner in his life, July 19th would have never been labeled the date of the infamous South Park Attacks in Seattle, Washington.
Buy the book, read it for yourself. While the City Slept
Written by Rachel Ebeling, co-founder and executive director
On August 22, a team of brave skydivers will jump for Angel Band Project, led by New York Junior Board Member Natasha Repass.
Natasha has her own harrowing story of survival. Seven years ago, on August 22, 2008, she was sexually assaulted by a transient while walking home from work. She was beaten, dragged into the woods, and raped at knife point.
“I went through two long re-victimizing trials before my rapist was found guilty and finally put away,” explains Natasha. “No longer walking the same streets as I did. I finally decided I was going to start “living” again, that I was going to take my day back. I was not going to let him take anything from me again.”
Her strength and bravery are inspiring to all who know her. I remember the day that I received that first email from Natasha. She shared her story, and told me she wanted to help other survivors in their efforts to heal. She had heard about Angel Band Project from someone who had attended a conference that I spoke at in New Hampshire in 2013.
Last year, she and her fellow jumpers spent two days at the Sky Dive New England campground, holding out for bad weather to clear so they could jump. And they did it after waiting out the storm. This year, even more people are joining her efforts.
“This is a day where new beginnings happen, spirits are lifted, minds are eased, friends are made and hope is shared. A day people come together as one voice in the fight to end the the violence,” explains Natasha.
You can help Natasha and her teammates by donating to the event. Funds raised will be used to expand our music therapy programs for survivors of sexual violence.
Visit http://www.firstgiving.com/AngelBandProject/chute-to-heal to make a donation TODAY.
All of us at Angel Band Project would like to send our sincerest thank you to everyone who donated and supported Virtual Choir 2015 through power2give.org. We were able to reach our goal and raise $10,000 and we couldn’t have done it without you. We did it! It feels good to be a part of the band today and every day. So again, thank you to everyone who helped accomplish this amazing goal.
As we celebrate our success with power2give, we also have no time to relax. We have so many exciting events in the upcoming months that we can’t wait for you to hear about. We are launching a new campaign throughout the month of April to highlight Sexual Assault Awareness Month. Our goal is to get musicians to wear Angel Band Project apparel when they perform and mention that they are “in the band.” We hope to reach new audiences and get as many people to join the band as possible. If you or if someone you know is a musician who would like to be involved, please contact Melanie Canning at firstname.lastname@example.org or call Angel Band Project directly at 314-240-5525.
To kickoff the “I’m With The Band” campaign, we are hosting a celebration at Create Space in the Delmar Loop on Friday, March 27th from 6-10 PM. This event is open to the public and welcome to all ages. Admission is free but we will be accepting donations throughout the evening. We will feature live music, a raffle, face painting, and more. It will be a night filled with fun and all for a good cause. Teal is the official color for Sexual Assault Awareness Month so please bring all of your friends and family out and help us to paint the town teal!
We look forward to helping our community raise awareness for this important cause and we hope you will too. Sexual assault is a silent issue and we have to keep working to break the silence!
The holiday season has certainly flown by, and with that comes the beginnings of a new year. All of us at The Angel Band Project are looking forward to what lies ahead in 2015. Looking back at the past 12 months, we couldn’t be more grateful for our supporters who are keeping our mission alive. We wouldn’t be able to exist without you, so thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
We couldn’t let 2014 go, however, without discussing something that we hope to continue for many years to come: One Voice Virtual Choir. If you were not able to attend this event in St. Louis in November, let us first start by explaining what a virtual choir is. Through the magic of technology we have been able to reach out to victims and advocates of sexual and domestic violence all across the nation. Each participant was paired with a music therapist and taught the song “One Voice,” a Wailin’ Jennie’s original. We provided a safe and comfortable environment for them to record their song and then compiled each recording, creating a “virtual” choir. This virtual choir was also accompanied by a live choir, which brought each and every survivor and advocate together, no matter where they were from.
It would be impossible to accurately describe the impact this night had on all of us. The strength, power and courage brought to the choir were inspirational to say the least. Watching these survivors come together to support one another was truly a sight to see. Our hope is to further grow this program and have participants from every state and every nation in the world. Someone becomes a victim of sexual assault every 2 minuets in the U.S. and it is up to us to raise awareness and break the silence surrounding this issue. We must create an environment where survivors feel safe and protected. Through our virtual choir we can bring together a community of survivors so they know they are never alone.
If you would like to donate to One Voice Virtual Choir 2015, please visit Power2Give.org. Your gift will be matched 33 cents to the dollar now through February 15. Every donation helps and is tax deductible.
Thank you for your constant support and dedication to The Angel Band Project. We hope to see you all in 2015.
Our second benefit album, An Evening with Norbert Leo Butz, will be available for purchase on October 19 at broadwayrecords.com. This album was recorded live at our 2013 benefit concert in St. Louis. Buy your copy TODAY and support our music therapy program for victims of sexual and domestic violence.
On August 22, rape survivor and advocate Natasha Repass will bravely take to the skies as part of her “Chute to Heal” fundraiser for Angel Band Project.
Six years ago, Natasha was beaten and raped at knife point by a stranger while she was walking home from work. She decided thereafter to commemorate the day that she was attacked — August 22, 2008 — by providing acts of kindness instead of remembering that horrific night and dwelling on it. As she said, “Helping others was healing for me.” She had to endure two trials to finally see her attacker brought to justice. “After going through two trials myself, I was able to help give support and guidance to those getting ready to go through their trials. I wanted to do something to take back my day.”
Last year, Natasha created over 200 flowers out of buttons and attached inspirational quotes to them. She spent the day passing them out to people in New York City who “looked like they needed a little extra kindness. Or to people who I saw do a random act of kindness.”
This year, she will continue her good will by skydiving along with a group of friends and supporters in Lebanon, Maine. On August 22, they will gather together to raise funds for the Angel Band Project.
You can donate to her fundraiser here!
IF YOU EXPERIENCE PROBLEMS WITH YOUR CHECKOUT PROCESS AND ARE HAVING TROUBLE DONATING ONLINE, PLEASE EMAIL US AT: RACHEL.EBELING@ANGELBANDPROJECT.ORG. WE CAN HELP YOU PROCESS THE DONATION SECURELY WITHIN A MATTER OF 24 HOURS.
Thank you Natasha for your kind spirit and courageous attitude. In her words, ” I believe in the power of kindness. That even the smallest act of kindness can strengthen even the saddest heart… And if jumping out of a perfectly good airplane helps even one person, then I’m going to jump.”
It’s been nearly a week since Jennifer Hopper, took the stage at The Neptune Theatre in Seattle, yet I am still buzzing from the concert. I’m sure the four hundred plus people in attendance would agree with me that it was the kind of night that just sticks with you.
Adding to the magic was the inclusion of two-time Tony Award winner, Norbert Leo Butz. Yet again, Norbert gave of his amazing talent and vocal range to get us both boogie-ing down with his rendition of Otis Redding’s Try a Little Tenderness to his “please-pass-the-kleenex” rendition of Patti Griffin’s Goodbye on the piano.
Then there’s the band itself. Led by the fabulous, and now Tony-nominated, Michael Moritz. Michael plays the piano like he’s the love child of Elton John and Professor Longhair, but with the voice and suave style of Harry Connick, Jr.
Last, but by no means least, is Jennifer Hopper. It’s hard to describe the sheer beauty of her voice. Perhaps our special surprise guest, Brandi Carlile, said it best. As she joined Jennifer for a song onstage, Brandi said “Jenny, all these singers and artists you’ve been singing tonight and talking about…they all have one thing in common with me. And that is, you could sing any one of us under the table.”
Brandi then hit the first few chords of Calling all Angels as the crowd exploded into applause. Suffice to say you, could hear a pin drop in that room, bar the hoots and hollers as Jennifer and Brandi’s voices wove together like an antique quilt. It sounded raw and exquisite at the same time.
The night was filled with countless moments like that. With Jennifer using the instrument of her voice in a range so wide, it’s hard to categorize her as a singer or performer. There’s an angelic quality to her voice. A smokey deepness at times. And a power and a command so precise, you can understand why her mother once told me that Jennifer always made people cry when she sang, even as a little girl.
In a world where we maintain relationships on Facebook, have conversations in text bubbles on our iPhones and experience most of our communication on a digitized landscape, it becomes even more important to gather together in a room, to hear music being played live. To hear the emotion, the joy, the sadness and the whole damn range of the human experience played out in song. It takes us back to a place of just being. Of connecting in a way that is more real–that sustains us and brings us hope and joy.
To me, that’s what last Friday’s concert at The Neptune was, a moment in time of real connection. Between the band members and each other. Between the players onstage and the audience.
It’s what great music and the Angel Band Project has always been about. My only regret is that I can’t just hit play on my iPhone and find myself back in that moment again and again and again.
That just means, we need a repeat performance. Chicago? New York? Who’s next?
Written by Jean Purcell, Angel Band Project co-founder