Lia Kahler and Friends sing for food and shelter

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From left, Armen Hanjian, Lia Kahler, Philip Dietterich, and Richard Gordon performed at a fundraiser to benefit the Island Clergy Emergency Fund for the Homeless and the Island Food Pantry. —Lynn Christoffers

Lia Kahler has offered free musical meditations during the summer months for a half-hour weekly in the late afternoons at the Chilmark Community Church. She is a 72-year-old retired operatic mezzo-soprano who donates time, energy, and music to causes she cares about, and has turned her focus now solely to Island causes. Her most recent benefit concert with silent auction was held Sunday, Sept. 11, 2016, at the Chilmark Community Church to benefit the Island Clergy Emergency Fund for the Homeless and the Island Food Pantry.

Nearly 150 attendees enjoyed Philip Dietterich (now 85) on organ, Richard Gordon on piano, and Armen Hanjian on the musical saw, accompanying Ms. Kahler’s extraordinary singing.

The program included 15 songs, including: a piece Ms. Kahler is writing with Richard Gordon (whom she brought from New York City for the occasion) called I’ve Got the I’m Gettin’ Forgetful Blues; Paul Bowles’ Heavenly Grass; the folk hymn Amazing Grace; Sam Raphling’s Fugue on Money; two Richard Strauss songs, one by Franz Schubert, one by Georges Bizet, and a Tchaikovsky aria — “Adieu, forêts” from The Maid of Orleans.

Between the entry donations and the silent auction of approximately 100 items, Ms. Kahler raised over $9,000, and hopes to eventually make that $10,000.

Ms. Kahler’s family history goes back to the arrival of the Mayflower; she has relatives who were among the first Island settlers. In the summer she enjoys doing genealogical research along with her cousin, Marge Hancock Phillips. This summer they learned how the Smiths married the Mayhews, and the Mayhews the Littlefields, and how they are related.

Her grandfather was born in what is now Polly Hill’s offices, but was at the time part of her family’s 450-acre farm. After the Depression, it was too difficult for the family to manage on their own and they sold off what they could not farm alone, selling a parcel to Polly Hill’s mother in 1926. Ms. Kahler’s father, an engineer, also born and raised at what is now Polly Hill, met his wife and had their first two daughters here before moving off-Island and having Lia. Her mother was on the West Tisbury Conservation Commission for 25 years, serving as chair for 19 years. Ms. Kahler’s sister, Ann Nelson, who started and ran Bunch of Grapes for years, still lives here; Ms. Nelson’s twin visits from Texas in the summer.

Ms. Kahler has lived in Germany, Italy, Belgium, and Holland, and has maintained an

apartment in New York City since 1978, but her “heart home is here.” She has raised over $200,000 in the past 20 years by performing about 14 concerts. She was 28 when she began singing opera with a union company in Los Angeles, before moving abroad to sing under conductor Christian Thielemann. Ms. Kahler got her singing start as a child in her midwest Baptist church. When she first moved to New York, she sang at Jewish temples and churches.

Her varied background explains the broad range of music included in her concert programs. She sings in nine different languages, and has “never sung a word [she] didn’t understand.” Ms. Kahler enjoys performing for the community because she no longer has to worry about stage lights, the orchestra, or the conductor. And she’s moved from being the primary performer at her fundraisers to her new incarnation as Lia Kahler and Friends.

Because I had not been able to attend the fundraising concert, I was treated to one song performed inside the Chilmark Community Church, where I met Ms. Kahler at her request for our interview. I can assure you it was a not-to-be-missed event. There is one silent-auction item left, should anyone be interested in bidding on pony rides for a group of up to four children at Woodbe Farm in North Tisbury. The value is $125; please email liakahlerandfriends@gmail.com to find out if it is still available.