Photo by Candace diCarlo
ÒIÕm a little bit of a Christmas music fanatic,Ó admits Carla Spataro. ÒI listen to it all the time.
Ten years ago she turned this passion into an organization, the Voices For Children Foundation (VFCF), which has released six Christmas music recordings, given numerous holiday concerts, and raised more than $100,000 for children living with or impacted by AIDS.
VFCFÕs first two CDs were the best-selling Christmas records at Tower Records Classical in 1992 and 1994. They have put on concerts with professional and youth musicians, performed on television, and given money to groups including MANNAÕs family food program; Best Nest, which places foster children born to heroin- and crack-addicted mothers; Camp Heartland, a camp for kids impacted by AIDS; city services agency Circle of Care; and the AIDS Coalition of Southern New Jersey.
ÒSomeday weÕll do an album that has nothing to do with Christmas,Ó Spataro promises. But not just yet.
Q. How did Voices for Children start?
A. Well, I came to Philadelphia to be an opera singer. I was working at the Victor CafŽ, a singing-waiter restaurant in South Philadelphia. I was friends with lots and lots of singers. We all had had friends who had passed away from AIDS, we were all really affected by that. We were all broke singers and decided we wanted to do something for the community, and we decided to make our own little Christmas tape and sell it at the restaurant and then whatever money we made weÕd give away. We decided to give the money to pediatric AIDS. We thought, you know, Christmas was a time for kids. And kids were sort of the unspoken victims of the disease at the time. So we made the first tape. We thought oh, weÕd sell a couple hundred copies, whatever, and we ended up selling 750 copies or something outrageous like that, just that month. We sold so many more than we ever thought we would. It was just really like a bunch of us got together at Arch Street United Methodist Church that first year and taped it ourselves with some reel-to-reel somebody bought at a garage sale.
Q. What are your albums like?
A. WeÕve had chorus and orchestra, instruments, piano, lots of different things. We really wanted to do something a little bit different. ThereÕs always straight-up classical pieces on the album, and also some things that are a little more Ñ kind of whimsical, maybe a little sentimental. We like to do some pop Christmas stuff mixed with the more traditional things, and I think thatÕs whatÕs made our albums so special. Because nowadays, you know, you go into a store like Tower Records to buy a Christmas album, usually you have two choices. ItÕs either somebody like Mariah Carey whoÕs doing all pop and itÕs just her, or you can get a classical album which is usually an opera singer like Pavarotti or something, which again is pretty much just him. Maybe thereÕs a boysÕ choir in the background or something. But I remember, and a lot of the people who started this thing with me, we grew up with the Fred Waring Singers and the Ray Coniff Ñ In the Õ50s and Õ60s there were a lot of choral Christmas albums with orchestra. Nobody does those kind of albums any more. Of course you can still get the old ones, but we wanted to do our own sort of spin on that.
Q. Does any one concert stand out in your memory?
A. The one three years ago. That was the year we had the biggest chorus. We had 60 people in the chorus, close to 100 kids in the orchestra. We were at St MarkÕs, which has a fantastic organ. We did a couple pieces by John Rutter, Christmas carols, with the orchestra, organ and choir, that we just Ñ it just gave me chills, you know? ItÕs always so fun to stand up in the chorus and be a part of something like that. And know that youÕre helping people at the same time.
Q. WhatÕs next for you?
A. Voices For Children is doing some event fundraising this year, which IÕm really excited about. This year in February, around ValentineÕs Day, weÕre going to do a wine auction and cabaret. WeÕre also talking about doing a golf tournament. IÕm looking for some other ways to raise money in addition to the Christmas concert. WeÕre hoping at some point to set up an arts scholarship fund for kids whose lives are impacted by AIDS. So we can send kids to music camp or pay for their instrument lessons, help them buy ballet shoes. But now I spend most of my free time pursuing my first love, which is writing. Even before music, although I love them both. IÕm working on a novel. It takes place over the course of a summer, two families very involved in a very professional high-level summer stock theatre company. Of course the characters are all dysfunctional and strange.
Q. Anything to add?
A. My partner is a pretty interesting guy. HeÕs a bartender slash stand-up comedian slash actor. We met at VictorÕs. He was the only non-singing employee at the place. WeÕve been together for a really long time. His name is Vinny Natale.
Q. Which means Christmas!
A. (laughs) Is that not the funniest thing? It explains everything.
Originally published on November 30, 2000