Matt Scuteri

Musician | Composer | Producer

Some Catching Up To Do...

Boy, I've been bad at updating this year! It's been a hectic season, but thought I would just drop in again to say hey and to fill you in the last few Holiday Express events. So here go...

December 7th (AM) The Collier School

Getting to the location was something of an adventure. The school is located in Wicatunk, NJ (where the heck is that) and when you pull up, you have to go along a windy, somewhat mountainous road. Keep in mind we were in Monmouth County, NJ where one doesn't usually encounter windy, mountainous roads. But at the end of the path, there it was.

The Collier School caters to a wide variety of middle to high school aged students, many with emotional or mental challenges. These were at-risk kids. And what's worse: they thought we were nerds. All of a sudden, memories of high school came flooding back to me.

But time and time again with this group, I'm amazed at how we can turn a crowd. Our fearless leader, Tim, said to the hesitant audience, "Hey, let's all just pretend we're 8 years old again, okay?" With that, Elmo and Cookie Monster came out and for most of the room, that was all they needed. It was awesome to see the ice broken and young adults acting like kids again, throwing their arms around Cookie Monster, swing dancing with Rudolph, doing a conga-line with The Grinch, and generally letting loose in a way that I feel they probably hadn't in a long time.

There were plenty of memorable moments thanks to everyone's willingness to loosen up and be a little silly. It was also pleasing to see a few of the kids break off from their groups and join the band, belting a few out. But my favorite part by far was seeing a young girl, who definitely wasn't interested in the beginning, bawling her eyes out when Santa came out by the end. See that? You're never too cool for Santa.

December 7th (PM) Trinitas Regional Medical Center

The Trinitas building is a rather imposing structure that looks especially intimidating as the sun goes down. It is situated in a pretty rough part of town and I can remember the first time I did the event several years ago, I wasn't sure what to expect. There weren't many people around and it was hard to figure what to do or where to go. I remember heading down to the basement room where the party was to be and being met with a bright, incredibly well decorated room, filled with older adults you were ready to rock. Thankfully, Trinitas hasn't lost any of that spirit.

The people of Trinitas did not disappoint on Wednesday and were laughing and singing pretty much from beat one. One slight difference was the amount of children present with the residents. It seemed like there were quite a number of families there, which is nice because many times when we go to places that cater to adults, many don't have families to speak of. The kids were shy at first, but were easily persuaded to take the microphone themselves, allowing their inner divas to come out ("Do you guys know 'Jingle Bells?'" <little girl rolls her eyes as if to say "Yeah obviously I do">).

The singing kids brought a lot of energy to the band and the room. By the end, there was a wonderful warmth in the air, an emotional one that had nothing to do with the fact it was 95 degrees. How can the night not be awesome when one of your raffle winners was an older man named Joe Frazier?

By the way, Joe told me afterwards that he was not THE Joe Frazier. In case you were wondering.

December 10th - Market Street Mission

And now we're finally back to the present.

Market Street Mission is an awesome program in Morristown, NJ that helps the homeless and addicted in the area by putting them in their unique program. Today's party was a celebration with some of the program's graduates and those currently working through it. And WOW, what a party!

One thing I've noticed since volunteering with Holiday Express is that it's usually those who have been through the worst in life, who tend to be the kindest and gentlest. In the room today, I noticed no egos, no bitterness, and no resentment. It was all just gratitude and love for one another. They all hugged each other (and us) freely and easily and supported each other when one of them went to sing with the band, voluntarily or involuntarily.

At one point in the middle of the show, a choir of the graduates got up to sing a song they had learned in the program. You could tell that, although they may not have been in the program for some time, the words they sang still meant everything to them.

What a fun group. I love events like that. But the season is far from over. Tomorrow is a hike down to Philadelphia to visit with some homeless veterans.

And on to the next...

Santa makes his entrance at the Collier School in Wicatunk, NJ. Photo from the Holiday Express Facebook Page and taken by the very talented, Scott Longfield

Holiday Express on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HolidayExpressElf/

Scott Longfield Photography: http://www.naturalimagesonline.net/

Children's Specialized Hospital - December 3

The Children's Specialized Hospital in Mountainside is a beautiful facility that does great work with critically ill children. Many of the patients are sensitive to noise so when Holiday Express comes rumbling through, we leave a lot of our loud items behind in favor of subdued percussion and acoustic guitars. Usually, it's a quiet affair with many of the kids too far gone to speak or even acknowledge what happens around them. You say hello and sing to them and hope that your words or gestures reach them deep down. 

That's how it usually is. But even if there is a lack of verbal validation, you could feel the enthusiastic energy in the room, just about from beat one.

It's amazing what meeting your favorite character will do. The energy of the entire room changed when Elmo came into play with everyone. Kids who were near unresponsive before the event started were now staring at him wide-eyed and reaching out for him. It was the same with The Grinch, Rudolph, and of course the big man himself, Santa Claus. I'll always have the image in my mind from yesterday of the little girl in her wheelchair, who didn't look up the entire show, with the biggest smile on her face when Santa came over to her and held her hand. It's funny how no matter how many years you do it, there's always a new lasting image or memory to be made.

Yesterday was one of those shows where it didn't matter that I couldn't hear my bass guitar or that the band didn't have any female singers so the poor men were screeching the high harmonies in their best falsettos (Nice job, ladies!). It was the little things that mattered. Afterwards, I said goodbye to all the patients as they were getting wheeled out and there were a few who started the day unresponsive, who reached out for my hand to hold it. No words, as per usual, but none were needed.

I'm writing this on the bus down to a new event in Atlantic City. So I'm already onto the next...

Holiday Express - Norman A. Bleshman Regional Day School

I've always heard great things about this event, though I've never been. I still almost barely made it today after getting pretty ridiculously lost. But all the driving around and frustrated GPS searching was well worth it to spend some time with the wonderful kids of the Norman A. Bleshman Regional Day School. The students at the school range from ages 5 to 21 and have various physical and emotional disabilities, but that certainly didn't stop the party.

One thing that was very apparent to me as the dance floor filled with wheelchairs and dancing kids was how loved each and every one of these students are. In my time with Holiday Express, I've been to all kinds of places that handle similar situations with facilities ranging from beautiful and scenic to downright depressing. The thread that all these places have in common is the love the staff and volunteers have for their people. That love was visible to me all morning as the staff sang and danced with their students and encouraged them to participate in the fun. Even if it meant taking the microphone and crooning "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer" in the style of Frank Sinatra...which happened and he was quite good! Although, I admit it's much more fun when they stink...

So many great memories were made today, including my first "Disco Santa" experience of 2016 (I'll just hyperlink this text and let you experience it for yourself). But for me, the highlight was meeting Abby, a young student at the school who, despite not having any use of her hands and feet, still manages to create custom greeting cards with original artwork. Abby explained to me that she uses her chin to draw the pictures on the computer. The school had them printed out and packaged them up in gift bags. Abby was very generously giving away her art to us as a thank you for coming to see them.

People thank us all the time after the events. And don't get me wrong, we really appreciate it. But we get so much from meeting so many amazing people and hearing inspiring stories like Abby's, it's really us who should be thanking them.

So thank YOU, Abby. I love my greeting cards.

Got a double header today so I will heading to another event in just a little bit. An old favorite of mine. And on to the next...

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It's the Holiday Season...Friends to Friends Community Church

This is a controversial opinion in November, but I love Christmas music. I love the feelings they conjure, the memories they bring back, and that feeling of warmth they give off even as the temperature goes down day by day. That's why when I heard about the great Jersey Shore charity, Holiday Express', season starting up earlier this month (the 7th to be exact), I was all in and ready to go, even if I was a bit late to the game.

For those who might be new here, Holiday Express is a charity based in Monmouth County, New Jersey whose mission it is to spread the joy of the holiday season to those who might need it most during this time of year. And how do we spread said joy? By quite literally getting on a bus and visiting homeless shelters, developmental centers, hospitals, rehabs, and many other places and throwing a giant party. Seriously, it's great. There's food, presents, and lots of dancing to music provided by a live band and all organized by some of the most dedicated group of volunteers I've ever met.

I've been playing in the aforementioned band for 8 years (What?) and volunteering for 10 years (WHAT?) and the most difficult thing is explaining to people why it's so great, so for the last few years I've been trying to document each event I volunteer at to give people a better picture of what happens on a day-to-day basis. Usually I would just post it on Facebook, but now I have this shiny new website and I'm going to use it. So without further ado...

November 26: Friends to Friends Community Church

Better late than never! Holiday Express has long been underway and last Saturday was my first event. And what a way to lead it off. Friends to Friends Community Church is a congregation in Bergen County that caters to developmentally disabled adults. I've been to facilities that help these sorts of people before and I can't help but feel a pang of sadness. Often times, these folks don't have any family to speak of and our little gathering and gift might be the only Christmas they get. Sometimes, the mood in the room can be a bit heavy. But that was not the case on Saturday.

When the members of the congregation filed into the little reception hall and heard the Christmas music playing over the speakers and saw the festively decorated tables and bags of candy (all expertly put together by Holiday Express volunteers), the excitement was palpable. Everyone knew it was going to be a good one.

From the second the band started to play, almost the entire room was up, dancing and singing. Several audience members joined the band to play along, too. One of our only rules at a Holiday Express party is that, basically, there are no rules. You want to sing an Elvis Presley song? Go for it. Feel like screaming for joy? We encourage it. Want to jump around, flailing your arms this way and that? Sounds great (Just be careful)! From my vantage point, playing bass, I get to see the audience transform over the course of the event from a seated and orderly group to a writhing mass of energy and happiness. And that's my favorite part.

Over the course of the event, several characters came out to dance and play with the crowd, including Rudolph, Frosty, and the much maligned Grinch. We also raffled off some prizes to some very lucky winners. And at the end, just like he always does, Santa came out to say hello and brought gifts for everyone there. That part always amazes me too. This event on Saturday is one of over 90 Holiday Express will do before Christmas Eve and in that time we'll see something like 20,000 people in need. And EVERYONE gets a gift, courtesy of Holiday Express. It sounds like a Christmas miracle...and it definitely is...but it also represents the core of what we believe as an organization: that ultimately we are all the same and want the same things, no matter what our situation and that nobody ought to be alone on Christmas.

A fun one in Bergen...and so many more to go! I'll be checking periodically with the events I'm able to attend. As we always say when we finish an event...on to the next!

Check out the photos from Holiday Express' event with the Friends to Friends Community Church on their Facebook page.

New Website!

Hey all! After waffling back and forth for years on putting together a website, I finally decided to give it a shot. This will be a home to put all of the music and audio projects I will be working on in the coming months as well as any upcoming gigs or events.

Stay tuned for more stuff. And more fun. Way more fun. Thanks for checking it out!

Matt