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Local group of musicians unite to raise awareness

Harmony for Change band members, from left, Gregg Woods, Sandra Lee Troutman and Lisa Sayers, practice on Saturday, Aug. 21 in the band's Warrenville studio. Lorae Mundt for Shaw Media
Harmony for Change band members, from left, Gregg Woods, Sandra Lee Troutman and Lisa Sayers, practice on Saturday, Aug. 21 in the band's Warrenville studio. Lorae Mundt for Shaw Media

For some musicians, the call of rock goes beyond the desire to make music.

Sometimes, it’s about the message.

That is the case for Harmony for Change, a band made up of veteran musicians from the Wheaton and Glen Ellyn area. The group writes songs to “promote positive change in the world,” tackling causes such as bullying, animal welfare and violence.

Harmony for Change first came together after the 2010 BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Founder, songwriter, guitarist and Wheaton resident Gary Belniak turned to the Internet as an outlet for his frustration about the damage the spill had wrought. There, he met a poet from Costa Rica, Mariela “Mari” Miranda, who wrote about her feelings on the subject.

“I originally met Mari, and we were both really passionate about this,” he said. “I’m a songwriter, so we pooled our talents together.”

Belniak enlisted the help of several musically inclined friends. While few had formal training, all had been a part of the local music scene for years. The project gave them the chance to make music they cared about in the way they wanted.

“The whole club scene right now is a lot different,” Belniak said. “They don’t want to pay bands much anymore. Not to say we don’t play live shows, but it was harder. And we’re not going to stop playing music just because we can’t find a gig at a club.”

After a few writing and jam sessions, the band recorded its first song, “Children of the Earth,” complete with English and Spanish vocals that Miranda sent from Costa Rica and backup vocals from the Anima Children’s Choir in Glen Ellyn. Belniak and Gregg Woods, who sings, plays keyboard and works for Belniak’s web marketing business, put together a music video and a website for the band.

The video, complete with visuals of the aftermath of the spill, are “quite shocking to some people,” Belniak said.

But that was the point.

“Even today with the BP oil spill, you don’t hear a lot about it any more, but there are still a lot of problems going on and we still need to do something for it,” said back-up vocalist Lisa Mohler-Sayers.

Things slowed down a little for the band after that, they said, but when they heard the news of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting late last year, they were once again spurred to action, writing and producing the song “Hands of Fate.”

While some who have seen their videos have asked the band to be more political, Belniak said, they were only trying to bring awareness to what happened and to partner with charity organizations addressing the tragedy.

Now that they are back making music, the group is hoping to be more proactive, selecting subject matter that doesn’t necessarily correspond with events, which can be a challenge

“All of us have day jobs still, but it makes us able to support this love and this interest,” said bassist and production assistant Mike Addyman. “We are a network and it’s something we support and endorse and do whenever we can.”

Still, Belniak said, they are hoping to “pick up the pace” of recording, and are open to including other musicians or bands writing their own material.

“Nobody really knows the answer as to what’s next, but we’re just going to keep working on it,” Belniak said.

Addyman said they are taking things one step at a time to benefit those who have been affected by tragedies.

“What we are doing is philosophically familiar to the 60s,” he said. “We think it’s a good idea and we’ll keep doing it until it isn’t a good idea or we just don’t have time any more.”

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