As the 11th of 12 children born to the Barnett family, Jeff Barnett's most cherished holiday tradition is singing with his siblings. His parents, who were both amateur musicians, encouraged him to get involved with music at a young age. By the time he was 12, he realized that his family had a built-in choir, with brothers and sisters representing parts within a four-part harmony.
"My mother loved it so much that she would, especially at Christmas time, send us out to sing for elderly people in nursing homes and people who were shut into their homes with the harsh winters of the Midwest. So she was kind of our first agent," he said, laughing.
Barnett admitted that as a child he sometimes preferred playing basketball or "horsing around," but now he embraces his family's musical abilities.
On Sunday, Dec. 18, Barnett, who's now a Palo Alto resident, will be taking the stage at First Congregational Church in Palo Alto with his sister, Carol Barnett Nesbitt, and nephew, Seth Barnett Pierce, to perform classic Christmas songs from their CD "A Home For The Holidays." The concert and CD are free. All donations will benefit Project WeHOPE, an organization that assists homeless individuals within Silicon Valley. It's a cause that holds a very deep meaning for Barnett and his family since the death of his brother, Greg, who was particularly fond of Christmas music, in 2014.
"He wasn't a chronic homeless person, it was just that, you know, when (he had) significant bouts of alcoholism he would basically get evicted from apartments," Barnett said of Greg's struggle with addiction. "As one expert told me, 'we need to let him find his own bottom.' Unfortunately his bottom was that he died of alcohol poisoning. He wasn't homeless at the time but he hadn't managed to slay the demons that had possessed him for years.," he said. "So looking at it, it was a terrible tragedy and it's something that played out over years ... it was painful for everyone. We just thought about ways that we could honor him and we wanted to create the CD to help the homeless."
The Barnett family chose Project WeHOPE to partner with for the benefit.
"What really impresses me is that they treat the homeless who enter their facilities as guests," Barnett said of the organization. "They're treated with tremendous humanity and respect ... they're doing great work for the people in our community who are the least fortunate, who are the most vulnerable."
Cynthia Corpuz manages multiple facets of Project WeHOPE as a marketing director, from connecting with the communities served to campaign development. She joined the organization after witnessing the compassion exhibited by those working to serve the homeless community when she attended a Thanksgiving dinner three years ago.
In addition to her work with the organization's homeless shelter, Corpuz also served as launch manager for one of the services provided by Project WeHOPE called Dignity on Wheels. This program offers use of a bathroom, laundry and shower facility for homeless individuals via their wheelchair-accessible mobile hygiene trailer.
"If you're a homeless person and you want to go to your appointment with your case manager or a medical appointment, you want to have a good sense of mind," she explained. "Having that sense of mind is also feeling confident and clean. So having a shower can give you that little boost to go and improve your life."
Corpuz, who enjoys getting into the holiday spirit by decorating her home with lights and garlands, has been promoting the upcoming concert by distributing posters throughout the Peninsula and said that she can't wait to see the Barnett family perform live.
Barnett, a classically trained tenor, has performed and toured nationally with several orchestras and choruses including American Bach Soloists, Dale Warland Singers and Philharmonia Baroque. He said that he is most inspired by musicians Frank Kelley and Mel Tormé for their "storyteller" style of musicianship. His favorite repertoire includes the "Evangelist" role from Bach's "St. John Passion."
At his upcoming show, audiences can expect to hear his vocal trio perform arrangements of definitive Christmas classics, such as "O Holy Night" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas." Their 12-track CD "A Home For The Holidays" will be available at the show and can also be found on CD Baby, Google Music and Spotify. Barnett family friends featured on the CD include guitarist Yuri Liberzon, recorder player Jutta Fugmann and musical arranger Paul Gerike.
Barnett said that his favorite song on the CD is "The Birthday of a King," because it is a less-commonly known Christmas song, typically performed with a large orchestra. The group decided to take a radical departure from the original recordings, presenting it in a lullaby style.
"The name of the album is 'A Home for the Holidays' and 'A' is important because we're sending a message that there are many people in our community who really have no home for the holidays," he said. "They have no one to look after them. They live isolated, sometimes solitary lives, and Project WeHOPE is not just a source of physical comfort for them but also emotional comfort. It's a place of connection. It's a place of hope. It's a place of love."
What: "A Home for the Holidays" benefit concert
When: Sunday, Dec. 18, at 2:30 p.m.
Where: First Congregational Church, 1985 Louis Road, Palo Alto
Cost: Free, donations welcome
Info: Go to CD Baby