Tuesday, June 25, 2013

A Powerful Performance

From Steve Fisher, 
Associate Director
Keystone State Boychoir

Dear KSB Family,

How do I articulate yesterday’s experience that honors and respects the memory of the Sandy Hook children, their parents, and those adults who gave their lives trying to save these young people? I do not wish in anyway to tout, if you will, what was truly a solemn opportunity for the boys to come into the Newtown community and offer, humbly, their voices at the “Concert of Solace and Hope” held at the Trinity United Methodist Church in Newtown.

It is, though, I think, appropriate to share a little bit about the experience - if for no other reason but to testify to the profound power of children making music and their ability to bring a little bit of healing to parents and families and a community who have endured, continue to endure, and will probably always endure profound pain.  But as life goes, they must go on - step by step, day by day.  Sometimes, I am quite sure, it must be hour by hour and even minute to minute.

What can we who are outside the Newtown community offer, really, to these people in hopes of helping them continue taking those steps?  They have witnessed and received the outpouring of condolences from every corner of our country and beyond, from the president of the United States to anonymous children who live on the other side of the world, some of whom are the very age of those who perished.

I imagine that, for the families of Newtown who lost children, words - no matter how sincere, and deeply felt – can often ring hollow. After all, words, and hugs and tears cannot - will not - bring their children back. As the saying goes, words fail.

But sometimes, when words fail, music succeeds. Succeeds in reaching hearts by expressing what is in hearts but what cannot be communicated in any other way. That is what our boys offered. And not just any kind of music. But singing made by children, in honor and remembrance of children senselessly lost.

I am not one to be at a loss for words. But I deliberately chose, before the concert, to speak very little. Not that I didn’t have thoughts to share. But because no matter how well stated or beautifully crafted, I suspected that there was nothing I would say that these parents, who have suffered the most profound loss imaginable, and this community, who has suffered the greatest collective lost imaginable haven’t heard before.

And so I just decided to let the boys singing “speak.” And speak it did.  We began with “Draw the Circle.”  And never did these words mean more:

“Draw the circle wide, no one stands alone, we’ll stand side by side”

The trebles then sang Evening Prayer:

“When at night I go to sleep, fourteen angels watch do keep.”

The Grads followed with “Prayer of the Children,” which serves as the underscore to the video. (link below) We knew the piece was appropriate for remembering. But we worried it the text might be too intense, too poignant. The audience, however, received it not with an overwhelming display of emotion, but as the words of the song go:

“with no more tears to cry.”

I’m sure there was not a dry eye in the house.  But it was a quiet sadness. Doesn’t it make sense that so many tears have been shed by this community, that some days there are no tears left? Just a void. I do believe that 55 boys from the Keystone State Boychoir filled a little bit of that void last night.

We then went on to sing “Weeping.”  This was the moment where I chose to explain. An anti-apartheid song. I asked the audience to join us in the motions of determined fists closed, as is the tradition in South Africa whenever there is a wrong that must be righted. When we got to that part of the song, something quite extraordinary happened. Not only did they audience join us in the motions, but one by one, the audience began to stand. It was powerful because, I suspect, standing and singing and moving in the middle of a song, in church, is not part of the culture of this Connecticut community. But given the tragedy of December 14th, they were moved – quite literally – to make a stand.

“Sing Out, Sing Out, Sing Out, Sing Out!”

As a conductor, you get pretty good and reading your choir in the midst of performance. I could sense from the boys in the middle of “Weeping,”  collectively, what I myself was feeling – being on the brink of tears.  But I also felt, collectively, that we all knew we had to be strong and lead this audience in song. That was our job. To help them take a few more steps.

We then sang “Man in the Mirror,” which was again, perfect for the occasion, and then finished the program around the room, just as we began, with “I Need You to Survive.”  I explained its origins, written in the days after another one of America’s unfathomable tragedies – September 11th.  Just as we did then, Americans have shouldered our fellow Americans’ tragedies.

As usual I asked the audience to join in singing the second part of the song with us. And what I thought would happened did.  Immediately, the entire audience, joined in. I saw children and parents,  young and old, singing. I saw some smiling and some not smiling, some with eyes wide open, and some with eyes closed. And I saw our boys, having drawn the circle wide leading them. Step by step.

I pray for you, you pray for me
I love you, I need you to survive
I won’t harm you with words from my mouth I love you I need you to survive

In the second half of the concert, KSB joined the Connecticut Choral Society in singing John Rutter’s Mass of the Children. Mark your calendar for our performance of this work at Church of the Holy Trinity on December 15th, the one year anniversary of the Newtown Tragedy.

As the audience left the church, we serenaded them with South African pieces, as is often our custom. It might seem too celebratory, given the place and time. But this was to be a concert of solace and hope.  It certainly ended hopeful. It seemed, in that moment, like the entire town of Newtown had joined us, singing and clapping. I can’t remember the word Ubuntu being so palpably in the air as it was last night. All of us gathered below that American flag we watched waving over this little town so many times on the news, witnessing those terribly dark days.

I have no illusion that our boys singing dispelled all the darkness this senseless act has caused to settle over that quaint American town. I don’t believe anything or anyone ever will.  But I do believe that our boys pierced that darkness for a moment in time with a stream of light.  Those that heard that light I do believe will remember it for a very long time to come.

Can you hear the prayer of the children
on bended knee, in the shadow of an unknown room?
Empty eyes with no more tears to cry
turning heavenward toward the light.
Crying," Jesus, help me
to see the morning light of one more day, but if I should die before I wake, I pray my soul to take."
Can you feel the hearts of the children
aching for home, for something of their very own.
Reaching hands with nothing to hold onto but hope for a better day, a better day.
Crying," Jesus, help me
to feel the love again in my own land,
but if unknown roads lead away from home, give me loving arms, away from harm."
(oooooo la la la la etc etc.)
Can you hear the voice of the children
softly pleading for silence in their shattered world?
Angry guns preach a gospel full of hate, blood of the innocent on their hands.
Crying," Jesus, help me
to feel the sun again upon my face?
For when darkness clears, I know you're near, bringing peace again."
Dali čujete sve dječje molitve? (Serbo-croation)