“For me, the highlight was when the artists who were survivors themselves were performing,” said Joseph Cumming, an abuse survivor and activist on the board of Hilltop Cares. He also performed last Friday, as a member of the jazz band.
“I have some painful memories from Horace Mann but I also have happy memories, and that includes the jazz band,” Mr. Cumming said before the band played.
Speaking about Jon Seiger, who in addition to the abuse has lost most of his hearing, Mr. Cumming said “he has overcome those obstacles in a way to produce not just great music but music that brings joy to others, and I think himself.”
Mr. Seiger, whose resume includes playing in Louis Armstrong’s final band, delighted the audience with his music and big personality. At one point, he played trumpet and piano at the same time — in different keys, no less — and sang in an uncanny Armstrong impersonation.
He also played the song “Everything Happens To Me,” explaining to the audience that “over the years, I’ve taken this as my theme song — think about it.”
During the reunion of the Horace Mann jazz band, Mr. Seiger announced there would be a special guest joining the band. He jokingly shouted out to Horace Mann’s current headmaster, “Tom Kelly, come on down!” to a rise of laughter from the audience.
In light of some abuse survivors and activists’ criticism of Horace Mann, hosting the concert at the school was a somewhat controversial move.
But Ms. Kaufman said that criticism is directed at how the board of trustees — not the school — has responded.
“We have no connection to the board. This is about the school itself,” she said. “It has nothing to do with what the board has done or is doing.”
“People want to reconnect,” she continued. “Good, bad, it’s like a family. You want to feel the power of coming together again.”
Funds from the concert will go to therapy for survivors of the abuse. Mr. Cumming said the event raised $17,500, which can pay for more than 100 sessions of therapy. He added that since the school offered to host and pay for the refreshments, all of the proceeds will go to benefit survivors of the abuse.
“It was an opportunity for both alumni and parents, and current students and the school itself to say we care,” Mr. Cumming explained. After everything that has happened, he said, “it was good to know people do care.
Mr. Cumming said coming back to Horace Mann, the place where he was abused, always involves a certain amount of pain. Friday night was no different. He and the other organizers wanted the concert to acknowledge that pain, but also balance it with positivity and healing through the music.
“I feel we did achieve that balance,” Mr. Cumming said.
Calling the night “bittersweet,” he said the concert “was a very important first step in the right direction."
But in his capacity as leader of a survivors’ group, Mr. Cumming said the most important step would be for the school to cooperate with an independent investigation into the abuse.
“I hope the board of trustees realize this would be the best way to promote healing,” he said.
Mr. Cumming added that his view does not reflect the position of Hilltop Cares’ board.
Ms. Kaufman said she hopes the concert will become an annual event
“The last time I was here was graduation day, 36 years ago,” Mr. Seiger said during his set. “Hopefully it won’t be another 36 years.”