Tom Willner’s concert at Ponce Church to feature original music, gospel choir

Tom Willner (Provided)

Tom Willner leads a double life. By day he’s a self-described “math nerd” and technology director at Georgia State University. By night, he’s a musician, singer-songwriter, speaker, and author. 

On Friday, April 12, Willner will give a special concert of original music at Midtown’s Ponce Church. There will also be inspirational stories alongside his Urban Blue band and GSU’s Voices of Victory gospel choir led by Jeremiah Brown. Drinks and dinner by Sweet Georgia Brown’s Catering will be available for purchase.

“I love a small live concert experience,” Willner said. “A mix of original songs and a few covers with a particular ensemble in a place that’s amazing – all for under $50.”

Music helped Willner process his cancer diagnosis and treatment a quarter century ago. He underwent major surgeries for testicular cancer only to have the disease spread to his lungs. After more surgery and chemotherapy, he was cancer free. During his recovery, his wife became pregnant with their first of three children via IVF, since Willner’s treatments left him unable to conceive naturally. To make sense of these highs and lows, Willner wrote a musical called “Turning Thirty.” 

“Music was my catharsis,” Willner said. “So, I started using my music and stories to help people understand my patient experience and life lessons learned. I don’t take anything for granted.”  

To date, Willner has taught 2,500+ health care workers and graduate students, reached 110,000+ viewers with his TEDx Talk and wrote a book chronicling the creation of each song for his musical. 

Jeremiah Brown leads GSU’s Voices of Victory gospel choir. (Provided)

The small live concert experience is his latest vehicle for using stories and music to foster compassion, wisdom, and joy. Last year he performed with a string quartet and French horn. This year he sought a gospel choir accompaniment. 

“As a GSU staff member, I contacted the music school and was immediately connected to Jeremiah Brown,” Willner said. 

Brown, a GSU undergraduate music education student and choral conductor, said yes. He too understood the power of music. In 2023, Brown coordinated, emceed, and performed at GSU’s first Black History concert “Till Victory is Won,”  showcasing African American composers with performances from gospel choir to solo rap. 

 “As the director of Voices of Victory choir, I am grateful for this opportunity and for Tom’s trust in me to help his vision come to life,” Brown said. 

Willner gave Brown notations and recordings to work with the choir before they all came together for dress rehearsals. 

“It’s been a great joy working with Tom and learning his soulful music,” Brown said. “With lots of planning and practicing, the choir is happy to be a part of this amazing concert.” 

Willner rehearses with the Voices of Victory choir. (Provided)

“I have always put a lot of harmony vocals in my songs,” Willner said. “They are adding a gospel flair.”  

Tickets are still available but going quickly. 

Up next, Willner is mulling a production of his “Turning Thirty” musical to further celebrate his 25 year “cancer-versary”. 

“My goal is to do three shows that each feature one arrangement or style and one big one that cuts across all of them,” Willner said. “A memorable experience that doesn’t break the bank and gives you incredible music and inspiring stories.”

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