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Troops get song from heart<br> 'Mistletoe' creation by father inspires daughter's generosity

After she read her father's somber "Mistletoe Song" for the first time, Christina Custode's thoughts immediately went to the troops serving abroad.

As the lyrics concluded,

It's been a Hard days' night, as the months turn to a year

With my head held high, as I dry another tear

On this Christmas Eve, in the dark I stand alone

Beneath my Mistletoe

"I realized it very much related to the those in the military who are away from their families, especially during the holidays," said the 22-year-old Niagara Falls music teacher.

Custode, a 2010 graduate of the Eastman School of Music, recently recorded the song as her first musical release -- and is offering it free to active-duty service members and veterans.

"As an artist, you always want to give your music to those who'll find it most relevant," she said.

Custode recorded the song with a host of local musicians, including her father, jazz musician Lew Custode, who wrote the song last summer.

"I wrote the song for her to perform," he said. "The lyrics just came to me when I was practicing. In 95 degrees, sweltering heat, I finished the lyrics to a Christmas song."

After reviewing the lyrics, Christina Custode said: "I felt there was something special about the song, so we started working on it immediately."

When the session wrapped up, she donated the song to MusicforTroops.org, a website that offers free downloads to active duty military members and veterans.

Custode's song is among more than 2,500 offerings on the site, which has been active for five years and has 3,000 registered troops and veterans who have downloaded more than more than 25,000 free songs.

Tom Hughes, director of the Philadelphia-based nonprofit website, said 90 percent of users are stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The mission is to share the gift of music with our troops, and they like it a lot," Hughes said. "It is the artists who are thinking of our troops, and that's how we are able to put these songs out for the troops."

The site provides downloads from all genres. Mostly independent artists donate their music.

It'll be awhile before Christina Custode will be able to gauge the popularity of her tune on the site. But locally, it has been well received.

It's being played by STAR 102.5 FM and a Niagara Falls station, WJJL 1440 AM. And the MP3 is available at Amazon.com, itunes.com and other websites.

"It's been a fairly good reception, quite remarkable," she said.

Music runs through her veins. In addition to her father, there have been musicians in other generations of her family.

"She been around music her entire life," her father said.

Christina Custode started playing the piano at 8 and the vibraphone at 10. "I was always singing," she said. "Singing has always been a big part of what I do. It's just kind of been a constant thing for me."

When she's not teaching general music education at two Niagara Falls elementary schools, she provides youngsters private instruction in piano, voice and mallet instruments. She also sings and plays the piano for Rerun, a pop trio.

Next year, she plans to return to school to begin working on a master's degree.

She said she enjoyed working on "The Mistletoe Song" and would like to release more tunes, and has been singing the melody live with Rerun and the Parisi Jazz Trio. The last two performances before Christmas will be this evening with the Parisi Jazz trio at Papaya on West Chippewa Street in downtown Buffalo.

On MusicforTroops.org, hard rock and heavy metal seem to be the preference of the troops, Hughes said. But with the holiday season in full gear, they could warm up to "The Mistletoe Song."

"It's a way to offer support," Christina Custode said. "I'm glad I found the site to give them access to the song in time for the holidays."

e-mail: esapong@buffnews.com

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