A cause for song

Island Community Chorus
The Island Community Chorus is one of the groups performing at Concert for a Cause this Sunday. Photo by Ralph Stewart

By Mary-Jean Miner - May 24, 2007

Just imagine if a hurricane struck here on Martha's Vineyard, devastating our regional high school and destroying all the Minnesingers' music library and most of the band's instruments. This is what happened to many music groups in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. This weekend Martha's Vineyard voices will be raised in song at a concert on Sunday, May 27, to help students and schools rebuild their music programs.

In the case of St. Augustine High School's Marching 100, the hurricane caused extensive damage to the school building, sending four feet of water into the band room, devastating a music library that was 50 years in the making and destroying instruments and uniforms. Senior Chris Quest said, "Even if we march without uniforms, you's still in us. You can't take our spirit away." The high school is scheduled to reopen in the fall, and the Marching 100 will perform together again.

The New Orleans Children's Chorus, which actually comprises five different groups, including a concert chorus, chamber ensemble, youth chorale, an apprentice chorus, and an intermediate chorus, hopes to be able to continue their programs with some help from friends. They lost their music libraries.

Both the band and choral programs at the Frederick A. Douglas High School have suffered damage and loss. According to their web site it was reported, "At the February 10 opening of Mardi Gras, the band members wore matching warm-up suits, since their uniforms were still on order. But they marched!" These young musicians are carrying on the New Orleans jazz traditions, and band membership is important to them.

In order to help these groups, Dr. Laura Prichard, music director at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington, is bringing three groups to the Island this weekend. Many of the participants have actually traveled to New Orleans, physically helping to rebuild near the Ninth Ward. According to Dr. Prichard, in a recent interview, "Some of the students and faculty members have actually been commuting back to their rehearsals, just to keep the music going." She added, "We hope to buy file cabinets for the choral groups so they can store all the music that has been donated from other sources."

A longtime visitor to the Island, Dr. Prichard has invited several Island music groups, including the Spirituals Choir of the NAACP, Martha's Vineyard Chapter; Vintage Voices; and members of the Island Community Chorus to participate in "Concert for a Cause: Supporting New Orleans Student Musicians," a benefit concert which promises to be a wonderful family event.

It will be held at the historic Old Whaling Church on Sunday, May 27, and will feature First Parish Ululations, directed by Jennifer Kobashi, a women's a cappella group; classical chamber music by alto Dorothy May and flutist Mies Boet-Whitaker; and the First Parish UU Church of Arlington's Choir, directed by Dr. Prichard. Works include selections from "The Church Cantatas" of J.S. Bach and several choral pieces.

Vintage Voices, under the direction of Philip Dietterich, will sing "Shall We Gather at the River," "Soon and Very Soon," and "What a Wonderful World." Singers from the Island Community Chorus, directed by Peter Boak, will perform selections from their repertoire, including "Danny Boy," and "Think on Me." The Spirituals Choir, under the direction of James Thomas, will present slave songs, which, according to Mr. Thomas, were actually forms of communication. As a grand finale, all the singing groups will join together for several familiar choral works, including Mozart's "Laudate Dominum," James Taylor's "That Lonesome Road," Jacque's Brel's "If We Only Have Love," and Mr. Dietterich's arrangement of the Shaker tune, "Followers of the Lamb."

"Concert for a Cause," Sunday, May 27, 7 pm, at the Old Whaling Church, Main Street, Edgartown. Tickets are a suggested donation of $20 for adults; $10 for children; $40 for a family. For more information, call Mary-Jean Miner at 508-696-8589.

Mary-Jean Miner is a contributing writer for The Times.