To singer-songwriter Irena Hart, “Save the World” is a song whose lyrics came to her in a dream. She describes waking up with the whole song and all the chords arranged in her head; she merely had to write them down.
“I wasn’t sure I liked the song,” she said. “But it’s one audiences seemed to love.” It’s a song she now incorporates into each of her performances.
Since Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, the Ukrainian-born singer began getting requests for songs from her besieged homeland. Beyond the Ukrainian National Anthem, she was stumped, up until a recent concert, when she found herself improvising, making “Save the World” into “Save Ukraine.”
With talent and passion, Irena makes her urgent plea for help to all who value freedom: “The war in Ukraine is a fight to save the world.”
Join her trio, Irena and Friends, on Sunday, Sept. 10, from 3 to 5 p.m. on the hill at Christ Church, 50 Church Road, Easton. The cost is $15 for adults $15 and kids are free. Dogs on leash are welcome. Bring your own chairs and picnic. Beverages will be available for purchase. All proceeds go to Ukraine Aid International.
In Search of Freedom
Irena’s family came to the United States. to find freedom. Life under Soviet rule in the 1970s was stifling, especially for her father. Irena says he was the force behind convincing the family of three to emigrate. Her mother’s Jewish religion made it easier to get passports, especially if the family went to Israel, where military service for Irena would have been compulsory. Not wishing that for their young daughter, her parents opted for an additional six months wait in Italy before gaining permission to come to the U.S., their first-choice country.
As a 12-year-old, adapting to life first in Bridgeport and then later in Fairfield, Irena learned English and made friends easily. She managed to skip a grade and a half when she enrolled in school. She went on to college, eventually earning a degree in mechanical engineering from Fairfield University. Like her mother, a classically trained musician and vocalist, Irena made music an integral part of her life, balancing singing performance and her engineering job.
Due to a chance encounter with a group of homeless teens in New York City, Irena founded a non-profit organization, Harmony 4Kidz, which aimed to help homeless and at risk youth through music and the arts. Closer to home, she volunteered in Bridgeport’s ABCD program, singing and playing ukulele and guitar in a series of 30-minute workshops for early learning for ages 3 to 5.
After marriage and the birth of her daughter, Irena curtailed her engineering work, deciding instead to go all-in, writing and performing her own songs. By 2006, she had enough material to record an album, Heart Strings. During years as a young mom and traveling musician, she discovered that even with a successful album under her belt and a chance to tour, life as a musician was financially and personally unsustainable.
Ukrainian pop singer Sophia Rotaru and Russian poet and singer Vladimir Vysotsky had strongly influenced young Irena in Ukraine, but no one was more influential, she says, than her mother. When she struggled to make it as a musician, her mother’s teaching came back to her.
“My mother was right—my mother is always right,” Irena says, laughing. “Music’s a great hobby, but you need a job, a real job. A career!” Irena went back to engineering.
The clear bond between Irena and her parents, now retired and living in Florida, is obvious in the way she cites their leadership: her engineer father’s determination to make it to America, her mother’s wise guidance. Evident, too, is the pride she feels toward her daughter, Alyson.
“Whew!” she said. “She’s the one with musical talent. So much more than her mother.” Perhaps following her own mother’s advice regarding a career in music, Alyson is about to begin graduate school at New York University’s Silver School of Social Work.
Now that her daughter is grown, Irena balances her engineering job at Infiltrator Water Technologies in Old Saybrook, a job that she “loves, loves, loves!” with musical gigs throughout the region. Her band, “TrainWreck,” specializes in rock ‘n’ roll and dance music standards, along with her own songs. Her passionate performance shines against an irresistible backdrop of what she describes as “gypsy rhythms and unique guitar chord structures, characteristic of Eastern Europe.”
It’s Irena’s face-forward expression of caring for others that excites her about doing a benefit concert for Easton’s sister city in Ukraine, Sviatohirsk. When asked about the war, she mentions her uncle and cousin who are fighting. “It’s unfathomable. So needless … the civilian deaths.” Her voice trails off. “I have no words.”
No words, except for those in the lyrics of her songs, like “Save The World.”