I have had so many and varied comments about our SONG concert last week. Many thank you notes have been sent out already, and yet, four days later, I would like to mention some people and community organizations that have really helped us.
So much goes into making a concert. It has been my intention from the very beginning of our program to present these children with the very best choral music and training, with the expectation that they will sing at the level that is being offered to them. That happens first in the classroom, with Shannon, Deborah and me, with the fine accompaniment by Heather Stubbs every week, and by the attention given by so many volunteers who come into the classes to ensure that music can be made.
Without our weekly volunteers, a concert like December Song would not be possible. Susan King, Mary Liz Clark and Denise Burnham sat with and marshalled all of our many wiggly, noisy, primary children who are just learning what it means to be in a concert. Because of her dual role as administrator and facilitator, Shannon Linton is singing, watching over SONG children, organizing front of house, attending to all details, always smiling, always professional. Besides steering this organization, Barb Henderson is at rehearsals, ensuring that we have snack, going to meetings, acting as MC in our concerts. Rodger Henderson put together our program. Derrick Cunningham sings in our Safe Harbour ensemble, and coordinates our liaison with St. Andrew’s and with Ten Thousand Villages.
Reverend Neil Ellis (minister at St. Andrew’s) has told us that the church would like to partner with us. We experienced this at our Christmas concert as the church hosted a beautiful reception for us after the concert. These community connections are invaluable to the SONG program. Mary Liz Clark has connected us with Millstone Bread, giving these children special snacks on concert day (another great connection with our community). Ted Passmore came to our concert and took professional photos. Trinity United Church loaned us music, St. Mary’s Separate School loaned us risers.
Many Safe Harbour members take on dual roles, moving risers, making special ornaments, participating on the board, coming to Solid Ground classes. On concert day, each Safe Harbour member offered such gentle attention to these children. Barb and Ron Swallow managed front of house and fielded lots of problems as parents and community members discovered there was no room for them in a packed concert hall (it is wonderful to have a concert sold out, but it is hard to turn away people who want to see the concert. We are working on this).
A special mention to the beginning of our string program. It has been four days since the concert. Up until yesterday, every time I thought about the young violinists playing, I started to cry (what’s the matter with me?). HOW can children who have only been practicing for 10 weeks sound like that? Their attention to their instrument, ensuring that it is lovingly set down, lovingly picked up, the look of focus and beauty on their faces as they play in impossible unison, the connection of the voices and the instrument.
We are in such a fortunate place in this organization in that Deborah has a rich understanding of choral art. Her mother, Ruth Watson Henderson is one of Canada’s foremost composers of choral music, and was accompanist of the Toronto Children’s Chorus until her retirement a few years ago. Deborah knows how to fit the strings into a choral arrangement to make it work. When I think of Silent Night, the entrance of the strings is in my ears. There has been such support for our start up (thanks to Lynda Kay and the United Way). I can’t help but think that this component of our El Sistema program is the beginning of something big.
This concert is an anomaly for me in many ways. Usually after a concert I am humming the music that was sung and reliving in my head how beautiful it was. This time, I think of the concert in moments caught in time: they continue to play themselves out in my head, and so far, they show no signs of going away. Here are some of those images:
- Lo How A Rose, the first song in the concert, the change on the children’s faces when the unison treble sound turns into 4-part harmony
- a child with violin and bow, at the end of a song his arm lifted in a gesture of beauty
- children singing in the best unison they can manage, doing very well with 2 part singing as well.
- the complete stillness when David Bryson began Dona Nobis Pacem: children in the choir stalls straining to see where the voice was coming from. The continued silence from the beginning to the end of that song. Each singer’s voice adding beauty and mystery until the final unison hum. Jesse Hagedorn’s expressive drone on bass–how many ways can you effect a piece with one tone?
- the love and fun in the junior’s voices when they began singing the Love March
- Four young people speaking with authority and pride at the beginning of Sahayta
- Safe Harbour coming together for It Takes A Village. A comment from Denise Burnham: “Our children are becoming better because of this. It does take a village…”
- the stunning beauty of the violins every time they played. In tune, musical, the gentle power of music, youth, and competence. I teared up involuntarily every time they played a note.
- children remaining focused and attentive through a long rehearsal, and then a concert. Denise Burnham has been sitting with one little boy at rehearsals twice a week for 2 and 1/2 weeks because he has needed some extra attention and assistance. Her careful attention is the only way that this musical child could have managed that concert. After the concert Denise told me: “He was such a good little boy at the concert. He was tired but he told me he could behave till the end, then he reached out and took my hand. I am thrilled that he was so proud of himself.”
- Safe Harbour singing Mary Did You Know, Snow Angel, The Seven Joys–such glorious singing.
- Song For A Winter’s Night made me feel like I was in a snow globe. So beautiful. I want to join a band!
- Silent Night sung and played in a church filled with beauty and grace. An email from a concert-goer: “The concert was fabulous. Your rendition of Silent Night was amazing! The effect of having the choirs’ one hundred voices spread throughout the capacity crowd and enveloping the whole church was unbelievable. It sounded like I believe it would sound if Angels were singing in heaven. I had taken four girlfriends with me and their reaction was the same. Two of them were in tears when the hymn was finished.”
We are moving forward with a strong swell of support from our community and parents. We have much to be pleased about, and there is still a lot to get done.
Thanks to all parents, SONG board members, volunteers, and children who worked so hard and performed so well.
Have a blessed Christmas.