Bill Pere Serves Up LUNCH
Published on 4/16/2004, in The Mystic Times
Mystic - What started as a one-time musical tribute to the late
musician/activist Harry Chapin has become a lasting effort to educate the
community about the problems of hunger and homelessness in our midst.
LUNCH, Local United Network to Combat Hunger, is the
fruit that was harvested from that first Harry Chapin Legacy Show, and 15
years later it continues to feed local hunger-relief organizations.
Mystic resident Bill Pere founded LUNCH in 1989, with
the hopes of doing a benefit concert to commemorate the 10th anniversary of
Chapin's death in 1991. Together with a group of local children, he produced
the first Harry Chapin Legacy Show to raise money to donate to hunger
"When it was over," Pere recalled, "people asked when
we were going to do it again." So, he did it again. And again. Many
performances and 14 commercial CDs later, Bill Pere and the LUNCH bunch have
raised over $300,000 for various local and national social service
Although LUNCH is a somewhat recent addition to Pere's
life, the music has been there since childhood. "Music is
something I always did, from the time I was little," he said. "I could never
imagine life without music or songwriting." He has memories of sharing his
parents' love of music, and of receiving musical-toy Christmas presents.
He became more serious about music as a teenager, teaching himself how to
play guitar and write songs. He said he learned early that "one could say
important things through song, and people are more likely to listen."
However, when he began his post-high school education
at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, he chose not to major in music. He
decided that "if that's what you have to do for a living, then it's not fun
anymore." Pere became a scientist instead, eventually earning a
graduate degree in molecular biology. Along the way, he took some courses in
drama, orchestration and music theory, but they were just for fun.
He continued to write and play music for fun as well, and earned the
Bucknell University Award for Outstanding Creativity for his rock opera "Of
Time to Come" in 1974.
Pere eventually found his way over to Pfizer Inc in
Groton. "I designed the computer systems that scientists used to
organize information from biological testing," he said. While some
might think his scientific and musical selves would have clashed, Pere
" There was a definite synergy between the two," he said.
Both aspects of his life required and sustained creativity. In addition, "I
never would have been able to manage these large scale productions if I
hadn't managed projects at Pfizer," he said.
It didn't hurt that he worked on the discovery end of the business, which he
said required more creativity than if he had been working on the development
end. The flexibility of his position also helped him stay on his toes.
"I pretty much designed my own position there for 23
years," he said.
Now retired from the science biz, his musical self has free reign. He uses
that free time and energy to devote himself to LUNCH.
LUNCH "uses the power of popular music to produce positive social action,"
he said. "We address issues of hunger,
homelessness. We support several social service agencies in the region."
Since the beginning, LUNCH has always used a group of
children from grade four through high school as its ensemble. Pere said
there is usually a core group of about 20 children, and that number can go
as high as 60 when doing a full, scripted production.
"We use kids in shows to show them they can make a difference," he said. He
hopes the students learn to work toward "a world free of tolerance and
He has seen children learn about social issues while working with LUNCH, and
his pride was evident as he talked about it.
"A lot of the kids wind up doing school projects based
on some of the things they learn here," he said. And where
does he find his kids? He just attracts them. "We've never advertised; it's
always been word of mouth. And there's never a shortage."
Pere's work with LUNCH has not gone unnoticed by the music industry or the
community at large. The walls of his home studio are graced with community
service awards, given to him by various organizations.
He has twice been voted Connecticut songwriter of the
year, he was named Connecticut's Official State Troubadour in 1995, and in
2003 the national Independent Music Conference named him Independent Artist
of the Year. None of his work is done as a solo artist; it has all been
One offshoot of LUNCH has been Pere's association with
the family of the late Harry Chapin, known for '70s hit songs "Cat's in the
Cradle" and "Taxi." That association began when Pere "had the privilege of
presenting a check to Sandy Chapin" for World Hunger Year, an organization
Chapin started before his death in a 1981 car accident.
Word about the Harry Chapin show spread, eventually
reaching the ears of Chapin's brother Steve, who then came to a meeting of
the Connecticut Songwriters Association as a guest speaker. Steve had played
keyboard in his brother's band, and brought the remaining members of
Chapin's band to play with LUNCH.
"Now we perform with them from time to tiime," Pere said.
Pere has also performed with Chapin's daughter Jen,
whom he called "an accomplished artist in her own right." In fact, Jen
Chapin will be appearing with the LUNCH ensemble on April 17 at Three Rivers
College in Norwich, having just returned from her own national tour.
"We've come to know pretty much the whole extended family," Pere said of the
Not content to just do LUNCH, Pere and his wife, Kay,
are also involved in the Mystic River Folk Concerts, presented monthly
throughout Mystic's 350th anniversary celebration year. This month's concert
will be on Friday, April 16, at Union Baptist Church on High Street in
Mystic, and will feature Kay Pere, musicians from Boston and San Francisco,
and Fitch High School senior Chadene Zack. The concert series benefits MASH,
Mystic Area Shelter and Hospitality, which is trying to secure a shelter
that will allow families to stay together while homeless.
Pere said Harry Chapin told musicians to hold two
concerts - one for yourself, and one for the other guy. Pere seemed proud
when he said that with LUNCH, "we do all for the other guy."