Couple spread peace, hope one concert at a time
City Heights —
When their son, Dylan, was born 10 years ago, Diana and Walter DuMelle wanted to teach him the values that were most important to them: love, kindness, generosity and hope for a peaceful world.
They gave their son the middle name Bodhi, the tree under which Buddha found enlightenment. A few years later, they gave the same name to their “random acts of kindness” nonprofit foundation, Bodhi Tree Concerts, which has raised more than $20,000 for local community organizations since March 2012.
“We’re not practicing Buddhists, but we believe in the loving kindness of the world,” Diana said. “Dylan was the inspiration because we have so much to teach this little human, and we offer enlightenment through our music.”
Besides the concerts, the DuMelles have also opened their small City Heights home over the years to the needy. Five years ago, they took in a homeless family of five for six months. And for three months in 2016, they hosted African refugee Peter Oman, 35, and his son Obang, 14.
Diana said that despite their humble means, they’re happy that they’ve been able to share their home, their training and their network of contacts in the music industry to do good.
“We wanted to make a difference in some way, and this is what we know,” she said. “We can’t give away a lot of money, but we can give away some of our time and talents. Hopefully, we make an impact.”
The Veterans Museum in Balboa Park has been a two-time beneficiary of Bodhi Tree Concerts. In November 2016 and 2017, the company presented Peter Rothstein’s theatrical choral piece “All Is Calm: The Christmas Truce of 1914” at the museum.Retired Navy Capt. Sheldon Margolis, the museum’s president and CEO, said all the concerts sold out, and the proceeds gave a nice boost to the organization’s bottom line.“I love Diana and Walter. They are just the greatest people to work with,” Margolis said. “I love their concept of giving back to the community in the way they do. They’re just giving people, and San Diego is very lucky to have them.
”Music brought the DuMelles together 23 years ago. Walter, an operatic bass singer, moved to San Diego from North Carolina in 1995 and met Diana, who was then directing San Diego Opera’s music-in-schools program. Later, she worked as the production manager for the now-shuttered Lyric Opera San Diego (formerly San Diego Comic Opera).They spent a decade on the East Coast, living and working in Connecticut and then New York City; but soon after Dylan was born in 2007, they decided to return to San Diego for good.Since 2010, Walter has worked at St. James-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in La Jolla, where he is the director of administration. Diana teaches piano lessons from their home, cares for Dylan and runs their nonprofit.
Bodhi Tree Concerts grew from the roots of just one concert that Walter put together in 2012. Lyric Opera had folded the year before, and he wanted to find work for some of the company’s former singers. Their first concert raised money for earthquake relief in Haiti.After that success, the DuMelles and their fledgling foundation’s board of directors crafted a mission for Bodhi Tree to surprise small local organizations with “random acts” benefit concerts.The only thing the groups are asked to provide is a speaker to explain what they do to the concert audiences. Besides helping these groups raise money and get their message out to a new audience, Bodhi Tree has provided performance opportunities for more than 200 artists. Past beneficiaries include the Immigration Justice Project, Diversionary Theatre, the Seany Foundation, International Rescue Committee, San Diego Opera, Mama’s Kitchen, Erase Poverty, Knots of Love and Foundation for Women and many more.
In September, the beneficiary was the Tariq Khamisa Foundation, which was founded in 1995 by Azim Khamisa, after his son was killed by 14-year-old San Diego gang member Tony Hicks. Azim Khamisa later teamed up with Hicks’ grandfather to present educational programs to end youth violence.Tasmeen Khamisa, Azim’s daughter, now runs the foundation as executive director. She said she was surprised when the DuMelles approached her last year with the no-strings offer. Her father spoke to the concert audience and the proceeds paid for school workshop programs, she said.“Their message is similar to ours in spreading peace,” Khamisa said. “My father was incredibly impressed with their professionalism and their commitment to San Diego and wanting to give back.”
Each year, Bodhi Tree puts on a Gilbert and Sullivan program, in honor of Diana’s roots in San Diego Comic Opera, but the rest of the concert bills are usually themed to the beneficiary organization.On Saturday, they will present their 30th concert, “I Hate Music,” featuring soprano Angelina Réaux, baritone Michael Sokol and pianist Ines Irawati, at The Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla. The concert will celebrate the 100th birth year of the late conductor/composer Leonard Bernstein, whom the DuMelles admired for his global humanitarian efforts.The beneficiary for the concert is the Alliance for African Assistance. Diana found the group by driving past its office while taking her son to school, the public magnet campus The Language Academy.
The DuMelles have a bedroom in their basement that they offered to the Alliance for temporary refugee lodging. In June 2016, the Omans moved in.Oman said he grew up in an Ethiopian village that he fled in 2001 when government forces killed 45 members of his tribe in a single day. He ended up in a refugee camp in Kenya, where his son was born (Obang’s mother later passed away). Together, father and son moved to Dubai, Utah and finally San Diego in 2016.The Omans spent three months with the DuMelles before finding a roommate to share an apartment just a few blocks away. Peter now works two jobs, at a thrift store and as a security guard, and remains a close friend to the DuMelles.“This family, they accepted me,” Oman said. “We were supposed to stay for one month and we ended up staying for three months, and they never asked us to pay for bills or water — nothing. This has not been an easy life, but this family made it so much better.”The DuMelles said the anti-refugee rhetoric in the 2016 election led them to want to help the Alliance because it serves people like Oman, whom they see as an inspiring example of the American dream.“Peter is so personable, so hard-working and so optimistic, with a smile to greet you every morning,” Walter said.
This year, Bodhi Tree Concerts is expanding its mission with plans for an international music festival in June and its first commissioned work, a children’s opera that will premiere in Tijuana.The DuMelles said their goal is to establish a legacy for Dylan, who they hope will one day take over Bodhi Tree Concerts and produce random act concerts for organizations that inspire him personally.“He feels a sense of ownership already,” Diana said. “We hope we have raised a boy who will grow up to be a philanthropist with compassion for others.”