SXSW FILM 2010
By Don Simpson | March 10, 2010
Directors: James Bigham, Javier Pena
Led by music director, Javier Pena, The Spirit of Goodwill Band features 29 members of varying mental and physical disabilities (Autism, Down Syndrome, blindness, etc.). For example, there is Terry, the blind lead singer and saxophone player; Christian, the blind and autistic pianist; Nancy is a soprano who takes care of her two older siblings despite her mental disabilities; Sam, the drummer, who did not thrive in his mother’s womb; and many other stories…each one different, each one amazing.
The Spirit of Goodwill Band members face the challenges shared by anyone who wants to become a musician. They must first learn an instrument and then they must learn how to play together as a band. Most of them never played an instrument before joining The Spirit of Goodwill Band, and those that did play an instrument had never played in a band before.
The narrative arc of For Once in My Life is built around an invitation from Miami Mayor Manny Diaz for the band to be key performers at the 2008 U.S. Mayor’s Convention in Miami. The audience will total over 1,000 people, consisting of mayors from 440 U.S. cities, their families of the mayors and the city’s special guests. As with all performers, the band members struggle (and stress) individually and as a group as they prepare for this one key performance – especially when Pena ups the ante by giving the band a brand new song to learn, a complex song at that, Gloria Estefan’s “Congo.”
For Once in My Life features both heartaches and triumphs; it will cause just as many smiles and laughs as it does tears. When you think of the way disabled people are treated in our society as a whole and how they are often segregated, if not totally forgotten, it is amazing to see these 29 people performing music at as high a caliber as professional musicians with absolutely no disabilities. If anything, it is because of the challenges that they face every day that they are able to get even closer to musical perfection. For Once in My Life is proof that people with disabilities should be given the same opportunities as everyone else. If you close your eyes while listening to The Spirit of Goodwill Band, I guarantee that you would never know that any of the members were disabled.
If The Spirit of Goodwill Band thought that audience at the Mayor’s Convention was huge, just think of the potential audience that will see James Bigham’s documentary For Once in My Life. This documentary is named after the song “For Once in My Life” which was written by Ron Miller and Orlando Murden for Motown Records in 1967. Originally recorded by Jean DuShon, the most familiar version of “For Once in My Life” is Stevie Wonder’s which was released on October 15, 1968. The Spirit of Goodwill Band does a cover of Wonder’s version.