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Archive for Blog

Partnering to build community

During Symphony of Soul’s recent participation in Amplify ATX we partnered with Kwaddle to enhance the fundraising opportunities for both organizations. We support our partner’s mission and encourage you to explore their services.




Our vision is to create mobile and web applications that allow parents to easily view and register their children for high-quality activities, such as structured sports and art classes, short play dates with other parents, drop-in day care visits and fully immersive, overnight summer camps.


Growing up in a middle-class neighborhood outside of Sacramento, California, I was lucky to have parents who pushed me into extracurricular activities. As a first-generation Indian-American kid, my childhood was filled with soccer games, karate lessons, drawing classes, baseball practices and Cub Scouts. These activities cultivated my confidence and curiosity, which pushed me forward in life.

As a parent, now living in Austin, TX, I’m trying to find the best activities for my son. Scouring the Internet, reading newspapers, browsing brochures and piecing together recommendations from other parents, I realized how difficult it was to find fun, educational and affordable activities for my kid.


On average, a parent spends 4-5 hours per week organizing, handling logistics and planning activities for their 4- to 14-year-old. Most websites, magazines and newspapers simply list a service provider’s phone number and address without giving parents the ability to search for availability, pay for services or reserve a spot.

In fact, only 57 percent of kids between the age of 6-17 participate in at least one after school extracurricular activity, meaning 4 out of every 10 kids are losing out on a fundamental experience.

Hence, Kwaddle was born.


Enter to win a $300 scholarship for summer camp and other great prizes!


Grief During the Holidays

Amidst the beautiful celebration of Christmas, I am reminded of the many people I know who have lost a loved one. The Holidays can be bittersweet for those who are grieving.

Our family had a very difficult year back in 2012. My precious mother passed away in August after an 8-year journey with Alzheimer’s; her only brother and my only uncle passed away that November; and then my father-in-law passed away that December after a long illness. It was a time of intense grieving and yet, amidst the pain, there was the palpable richness of the love we felt – and continue to feel – with and for those who are no longer with us in this realm.

This Christmas Eve, I am offering up a heartfelt prayer of love and gratitude for my precious friends and family members, those who are here and those who have crossed over. I am also praying for the many people in the world who are grieving the loss of loved ones this time of year. Please know that you aren’t alone in your grief. In the spirit, we are all one, and we love and grieve together.

“Santa Baby” is here!

“Santa Baby” has come to town! As a sequel to last year’s “Night & Day” music video, my husband George and I are proud to release our “Santa Baby” music video, Part II in the video series. The single audio track of “Santa Baby” is available for purchase on iTunes and other online outlets. The proceeds from the sales of the song will benefit Symphony of Soul, so please download the song and help provide income for Austin’s musicians to provide “musical medicine for the soul” to people who are confined in care centers.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

With blessings and appreciation,

Leslie Hyland Rodgers
Thank you to the many people who made this audio and video production possible!

Director of Photography – Adam Grumbo
Written and Produced by Leslie Hyland Rodgers and George Rodgers
Camera Assistant – Jim McKay
Coaching and Consulting – Mona Lee Fultz
Edited by Adam Grumbo
Production Designer – Leslie Hyland Rodgers
Music written by Joan Javits, Tony Springer, Phil Springer (Tamir Music)
Music arranged and produced by Gary Powell
Music recorded at Gary Powell Studios with Leslie Hyland Rodgers (voice), Gary Powell (keyboard), Art Kidd (percussion), Paul Baker (saxophone), Larry Seyers and Ryan Arnett Heitmann (guitar)
Music mastered by Terra Nova Digital Audio
Stylist and Wardrobe Consultant for Leslie Hyland Rodgers – Jean LeFebvre
Diamond necklace, earrings, bracelet and ring for Leslie Hyland Rodgers – Copeland’s Jewelers


Leslie Hyland Rodgers
George Rodgers
Gary Powell
Kathie and Bill Bailey
Lisa and Ray Krynine
Jean LeFebvre
Sandia Iskandar
Ryan Sandoval
Seth Jelinek

Karthik Mekala
Sky Clarke
Daniel Kelly
Ed Melendez
Theresa Vo
Brigitte Ngo
Johnson Wu
Fe Guiyab
Donovan Huynh
Christina Brown
Sandra and Ronald Boulden
Rich Harney
Paul Baker
Evan Arredondo
Art Kidd
Ryan Arnett Heitmann

With special thanks to:
Copeland’s Jewelers, Jean LeFebvre, Jason at Bounce Around Austin, Blythe Bailey of Laguna Gloria, Jason Wyte and Gene Todorov of Brass House, and Jennifer Myers of Jennifer’s Gardens.


Swimming in Sapphires! Purchase Jewels and Benefit Symphony of Soul!

In the month of September, purchase jewelry from Copeland Jewelers and proceeds will benefit Symphony of Soul!



Swimming in Sapphires with Copeland Jewelers!

Symphony of Soul in the Amazon Jungle


Symphony of Soul in the Amazon Jungle (downloadable PDF)

Striking a Chord with Cancer Patients

Thank you to the wonderful Pam LeBlanc of the Austin American-Statesman for writing such a wonderful article on Symphony of Soul musician Margaret Slovak!

Striking a chord with cancer patients

That musician was Margaret Slovak, a classically influenced jazz guitarist who has played around the world.

“Her music is so soothing,” my dad, Ed Coleman, tells me now, as I sit with him while he gets another infusion. “It’s not intrusive; it doesn’t dominate. The music transports you away — it reaches out and really touches me.”

Some patients doze while Slovak plays; others talk quietly with family and friends. For my dad and his wife, the music softens the anxiety that surrounds this new reality of life.

“I just remember looking up and hearing a guitar and thinking, ‘Wow, this is really a warm, soothing place,’” my dad’s wife, Diane Coleman, says. “The music is incredibly calming, but also it’s alive and being performed by somebody who is giving us a gift.”

Slovak started playing for patients nearly 20 years ago in Portland, Ore. She’d been performing in clubs and touring as a solo artist and as part of a quartet, but sometimes she felt like she wasn’t connecting with audiences in noisy venues. She began volunteering weekly at a hospice facility in addition to performing concerts.

Then, when her mother became ill in 1999, she brought her guitar into the intensive care unit and played for her there. “It seemed like it really calmed her down,” Slovak says. “With all the machines, I felt so helpless; I felt like all I could do was play for her.”

She realized other patients could benefit and began volunteering in the hospital’s oncology and critical care units, too.

In 2003, Slovak became a patient herself when the car she was driving was struck by another vehicle, injuring her right hand, arm and shoulder. Since then, she’s undergone six surgeries to repair nerve damage and still doesn’t have full use of her fingers. She continued to play guitar but modified her style, using a pick instead of plucking strings individually and slowing down her music.

Self-conscious about her ability to perform, she quit touring publicly. She knew, though, she could still touch lives by playing for patients. Her own experience, she says, has made her more empathetic, and the patients give her a reason to play when she might have quit. “I try to make up for my limitations by playing with heart,” she says.

When Slovak moved to Austin in 2012, she joined the nonprofit group Symphony of Soul, which hires musicians to perform for patients in health care settings. She also plays with Swan Songs, which provides music for people drawing near the end of their lives.

Leslie Hyland-Rodgers, an Austin singer, actress and artist, founded Symphony of Soul 14 years ago, when her own mother had cancer. “She asked me to sing to her to help her relax,” Hyland-Rodgers says. “When I did that I turned around and saw that the other cancer patients in the ward had gotten up out of there beds and were gathered, listening.”

Besides providing therapeutic music for people at 34 different care centers around Austin, Symphony of Soul provides needed income for musicians, many of whom live at the poverty level, Hyland-Rodgers says. The group works with more than 100 musicians who give more than 200 performances a year. Still, it doesn’t have the funding to keep up with demand from care facilities.

Slovak’s performances at Texas Oncology aren’t part of Symphony for Soul’s work, but the guitarist missed playing for oncology patients and started playing there as a volunteer last October. She plays some of her own compositions — she has three CDs to her name — along with jazz standards.

“I know when they’re going through chemo it’s scary, it’s uncomfortable,” she says. “I just try to offer them calming music that will help them relax, offer them some peace.”

For my father, it brushes away a little bit of the stress of not knowing what happens next.

Symphony of Soul mourns the passing of Judy Greene

Symphony of Soul mourns the passing of Judy Greene, the beloved mother of the organization’s founder Leslie Hyland Rodgers.  Judy was the inspiration for Symphony of Soul and her beautiful legacy of love and compassion will live on through the organization forever.

Obituary for Judy Greene

Our Symphony of Soul Swingin’ in the Stars Soiree was a swingin’ success!!!

Dear Friends,

Our Symphony of Soul Swingin’ in the Stars Soiree was a swingin’ success!!!!! Sleek. Sexy. Intimate. Romantic. Simply stated, it was the perfect precursor to Valentine’s Day.

Swingin' in the Stars Soiree 2012

View from The Austonian

On a crisp Thursday evening, February 9, 2012, our stylish guests gathered on the posh 55th floor of The Austonian and admired the sparkling 360 degree view of the city. It was only because of the kindness of our dear friend Emily Moreland that we were able to host our event at The Austonian, one of the most sought-after venues in Austin.

The Ambler Family Foundation lovingly donated beautiful bouquets of pink, red and lavender roses that perfumed the air, while votive candles emanated a romantic glow to the already stunning setting. The soulfully sexy jazz of The Russell K Shores project wowed the guests with every wail of the saxophone and slap of the bass. People couldn’t help swaying and dancing to the sultry tunes.

Swingin' in the Stars Soiree 2012At a certain point, the band accompanied yours truly while I sang a few torch songs from the 30‘s and 40‘s. When the band took a well-deserved break, the ever-charming men of the Medallion Quartet wooed the guests with their beautiful a cappella renditions of tender love songs. I couldn’t help but notice how so many couples held each other just a little bit closer a they listened to the beautiful singing voices of the four men. And, let’s face it, I loved being serenaded by the guys! What girl wouldn’t?

Amidst mixing and mingling and hugs and laughter, there were oohs and aahs of delight as our guests tasted the marvelous food prepared by Chef David Bull of Congress Restaurant. Toasts abounded as everyone sipped the sweet and splendid vodka cocktails generously provided by Dripping Springs Vodka.

Swingin' in the Stars Soiree 2012I was tickled to see how playfully competitive our guests became as they purchased more and more tickets in hopes of winning the Sir Elton John Extravaganza Raffle. For $50 a ticket, the raffle provided roundtrip airfare for two people to Las Vegas, two night’s stay in the five star Bellagio Hotel, two tickets to see Elton John in concert, and two backstage passes. We thank our wonderful friend and Advisory Board member Bill Ham for arranging that package on our behalf. Congratulations to the raffle winner Christopher Hill!

There were squeals of delight as the women tried on the exquisite jewelry imported by my dear childhood friend Kendall Wilson of San Miguel Treasures. Kendall kindly donated a generous percentage of the purchases to Symphony of Soul at the end of the evening. “Leslie, look what I just bought!” my friends would giggle as they rushed up to me throughout the evening, proudly modeling their sparkly purchases.

It is because of friends like the wonderful Michael Barnes of The Austin American Statesman, that word got out about our event and we sold out. Thank you, Michael! And speaking of promotion, thank you to our sweet friend Sherry Scott for designing such beautiful invitations, brochures and the ongoing media presentation of Symphony of Soul in action that flashed so stylishly on the walls of The Austonian.

Our guests felt like fashion models as they posed for the renowned photographer Brenda Ladd, our lovely friend and Advisory Board member. Thank you, Brenda, for donating your fantastic photography skills to capturing our event on camera.

We could never have pulled off such a lovely event without Davis & Wilkerson, US Mexico Consulting, and Catalyst Consulting, The Ambler Family Foundation, Chef David Bull and Scott Walker of Congress Restaurant, Emily Moreland of Moreland Properties, The Austonian, Lauren Kelleher and Dripping Springs Vodka, our stellar volunteers Debbie Murphy, Monika Seiders and Sherry Scott, Kendall Wilson, my beloved husband and board member Dr. George Rodgers, as well as our other board members Bill Ham, Brenda Ladd, Tommy Cowan, Jos DenHartog, Terry Heller and Tamra Swindoll. You have blessed me and the organization with your loving hearts and generosity. Thank you for giving the Symphony of Soul family such a wonderful celebration of friendship!

With blessings,

Leslie Hyland Rodgers

Gospel Brunch 2011

Dear Friends,

Hallelujah! I am joyful to report that our Symphony of Soul Gospel Brunch fundraiser was a smashing success!

Our 120 guests gathered on the beautiful grounds of Mercury Hall while sipping on cocktails and enjoying the outstanding bluegrass tunes of the warm and wonderful Ritchie Mintz & Pickin’ Ranch. The charming men of The Medallion Quartet were in attendance as guests and delighted us with few a cappella barbershop quartet songs. What a lovely surprise! At noon, The Original Bells of Joy (Austin’s oldest and most-beloved black gospel group, dating back to the 1950’s), performed a glorious concert while our guests dined on the bountiful brunch prepared by Royal Fig Catering. I was honored to sing a white-girl-gospel song I’d written called “Appalachian Prayer” with “The Bells” singing back-up behind me. It was a thrill to then sing back-up for them on their last few songs.



We hadn’t planned on hosting another event until 2012 but the stars aligned and the whole concept of gospel brunch just flowed into place. After some serious soul-searching, the board and I agreed that Symphony of Soul is, at its core, a ministry. We aren’t about being the biggest and the most glamorous: we are about serving people in need through the power of live “musical medicine for the soul”. Once we clarified this for ourselves, everything unfolded with ease.

It all began in a rehearsal one day with my dear friend, pianist and new board member Terry Heller. We were playing through some gospel songs when the light bulb went off for both of us at the same time:

“Wouldn’t a gospel brunch be a great fundraiser for Symphony of Soul someday?”


“Oh, my goodness!” shouted Terry, “Speaking of ministries… We need to get you with The Bells of Joy! I’ve been friends with those guys for 30 years!”

Ritchie Mintz & Austin Pickin’ Ranch

And so it happened, Symphony of Soul and The Original Bells of Joy joined forces. Two ministries came together for the greater good. And it was, indeed, good! An anonymous sponsor stepped in to underwrite the event; Mercury Hall opened up as the ideal venue; Royal Fig Catering provided the perfect menu and the greatest of service from start to finish; The Bells of Joy welcomed Terry and me into their Tuesday night rehearsals at Corinth Baptist Church in East Austin, and on and on. Things just flowed.

Thank you to the many generous souls who made our gospel brunch such a success! It was wonderful to see everyone having such a grand time and we couldn’t have done this without the support of our anonymous donor for underwriting the event; the Ambler Family for contributing the beautiful floral arrangements; our terrific Board of Directors – my beloved husband Dr. George Rodgers, Jos DenHartog, Tamra Swindoll, and Terry Heller; our tremendous Advisory Board members Tommy Cowan and professional photographer Brenda Ladd who graciously photographed the event; and our stellar volunteers Sue Ann Zerre, Michelle Burns and Sherry Scott, the designer of our spectacular new brochures and other printed materials.

The Medallion Quartet

I greatly appreciate the dear souls who made pledges to Symphony of Soul and who purchased our “Sugar & Spice” compilation CD, wine, framed art and greetings cards. Thank you, to the wonderful Ritchie Mintz & Pickin’ Ranch and to The Medallion Quartet, for sharing your outstanding music and precious selves with us. Thank you to The Original Bells of Joy for opening your hearts to me, for including me in your lives and in your rehearsals, for sharing in the experience of music with me, and for blessing us with a truly uplifting performance.

The Bells of Joy and Leslie Hyland Rodgers


We so appreciate all of the wonderful friends who attended from all around Austin and as far away as Dallas and Houston. How delightful it was to have guests ranging in age from 3 years young to 100 years old! Thank you to those wonderfully supportive friends who sent in donations even though they weren’t able to attend the event. Our organization grows ever brighter, thanks to the many lovely souls who support our mission. On behalf of Symphony of Soul, I thank each and every one of you for your friendship.

After the brunch, our friends The Bailey’s said, “This was the best event we’ve been to in a long time! We don’t want to leave!” I was please to hear so many people say that we must make Symphony of Soul Gospel Brunch an annual tradition. Yes, I do believe we’re on to something! Amen to that!

With blessings and appreciation,


To view and purchase Brenda Ladd’s photos from the event visit: http://www.collages.net
Username: gospel, pw: 15058

A Child in the Hospital – 44 Surgeries Later!

Dear Friends,

Symphony of Soul is honored to provide “live musical medicine for the soul” to the young patients at Dell Children’s Hospital.  Looking so frail in their hospital gowns with IV tubes attached to their arms, the children slowly trickle into the activities room for the Symphony of Soul performances.  Nurses and family members steady them as they walk or push them along in a wheelchair.  It breaks one’s heart to witness their vulnerability.  Warmth quickly fills the room, however, as the music begins and the smiles spread across the faces of the young patients.

We all tend to feel so helpless when a friend or loved one is in the hospital.  How do we help?  What should we say or not say?  What should we do or not do?  It’s hard enough to know how to handle such tender situations with adults, but with children, it can feel unbearable and overwhelming.  The questions loom much larger:  How do we help this vulnerable little child?  How do we comfort his terrified mother and father?

Over lunch recently, I begged my dear friend and soul sister Sue Ann Zerre to write about her experience of supporting her son Zach through 44 major surgeries.  “Forty-four surgeries later!” I exclaimed.  “Sue Ann, do you realize the profound impact your story could have on other people?  It is extremely rare for anyone to survive that many serious surgeries, especially a child.  You’ve endured so much and you know from so many agonizing experiences with Zach what people can and should do to help when a child is in the hospital.  Please write about it and share it with the rest of us so that we can learn.”

With tears spilling out of her angelic blue eyes, Sue Ann softly smiled and agreed to give the writing a try.  Her son Zach is now 35 years old, happily married, working in Austin and a living miracle.  The trials Zach and Sue Ann endured would be unbearable to most of us.  We suffer greatly whenever a friend or loved one has to have surgery.  But 44 times is too much for anyone, especially a young child.  While she moves forward with writing, Sue Ann has given me permission to share a little of her story with us, as follows:

“When Zach was born, the doctors came to tell me that he wasn’t urinating.  After a few hours I was told that his insides looked like scrambled eggs; he didn’t have a bladder; one kidney was 10 times bigger than the other; his heart had a hole in it; and they gave him a 1% chance of surviving. I was devastated!  I knew in my heart that he had a purpose and was going to survive!  Zach had 10 surgeries in the first year of his life. During that time, we lived at Children’s Medical Center in Dallas.

There is so much to absorb when your child is born with any challenge, but being a single mom, and without much family support, it was up to me.  Zach slept on my chest the first few months in order to hear my heart beat.  As he grew, the doctors were encouraged but still very concerned about his chance of survival.

My personal faith and the grace of God are the foundation of our story.  The relationship with the medical community – the doctors and nurses – is a special ingredient.  It is so important to work with them.  We are all a team trying to extend the life of the child.  The relationship with the other moms and finding a support system was also very important.  I would sit with a stuffed dog snuggled up in my arms while Zach was in surgery.  The other moms started doing the same.  It gave us a sense of comfort!  As Zach got older, I was able to decorate his room with kites hanging from the ceiling, GI Joe figures, plants, and a lot of colored construction paper.  It softened the sterile environment of the hospital room.

I found that a lot of my friends couldn’t handle it.  A few would come up to see us but were then overwhelmed seeing all of the children with their challenges.  It would hurt my feelings but I accepted the fact that, until you go through something like this, you have no idea how it feels.  We need the support of family and friends.  If there isn’t any family, you make friends with the other mothers and you support each other.

When Zach was 8 years old, his roommate passed away and that was his first time to lose a friend.  It had a huge affect on him.  He had been in a protective bubble surrounded by the medical community.  It gave him a false sense of security and so it was a shock when his friend died.”

Sue Ann shared with me that nurses and doctors can make a positive or negative impact on the children and families, depending on their people skills.  The aloof or arrogant doctors and other medical personnel only add to the extreme anxiety that the families are already experiencing.  But those who are warm and tender and who take the time to communicate with compassion can have a very positive impact.

With this in mind, I am happy to report that my lovely half-sister Dr. Mary Kathryn “M.K.” Hyland Eagleton has begun her residency at UT Southwestern-Austin in pediatrics at Dell Children’s Hospital.  Needless to say, I am very proud of M.K. and I know that her brilliant mind, combined with her sweet, humble and gentle demeanor, will have a very positive impact on everyone around her at Dell Children’s, most especially the young patients and their families.

In addition to having compassionate caregivers such as M.K. on the premises, Sue Ann assures me that our Symphony of Soul musicians are providing a wonderful gift to the children and families whenever they perform at Dell Children’s Hospital.  There is nothing like music to lift the spirits of those who are in physical and emotional pain.  The families of the young patients say time and again that it comforts them to see their fragile son or daughter smiling and singing along with the music.  Sue Ann shared with me that when Zach was in the hospital, “People would bring their guitars and sing.  Music brings life to these kids,” she said.

I look forward to hearing more of Sue Ann’s story, for I know it will be a valuable source of insight for us all.  In the meantime, Symphony of Soul will continue serving the precious children and their families with love, compassion and, of course, “musical medicine for the soul”.

With blessings,

Leslie Hyland Rodgers