Bringing joy to the world

For over two decades,“Reflections of Peace” concert celebrates Hospice of MV.

The 2008 Reflections of Peace concert, held in Our Lady Star of the Sea Church. — Susan Safford

Like many benefactors and donors of time or money on Martha’s Vineyard, Kevin Ryan and his wife Joanne Ryan like to avoid public recognition. Working from behind the curtain and on the stage, they have, along with many volunteers, quietly funded and produced the Reflections on Peace concert to benefit the Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard for the past 21 years — bankrolling the cost, managing volunteers, organizing rehearsals, and promoting the show.

“The purpose isn’t just to benefit Hospice, it’s to celebrate it,” Mr. Ryan said. “Our real mission with the concert is not just funding, it’s to celebrate and benefit Hospice, the staff and crew, what they do, and give them a platform to speak to real people.”

Kevin Ryan did not know about Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard when he moved to the Island in 1987, but he was certainly familiar with the concept of hospice care. A few years before moving to the Vineyard with his infant son and wife, Mr. Ryan lost his brother Rick Ryan to osteosarcoma, and used a hospice service in Tewksbury to help care for his brother in the final days of his life.

“We all had this really stoic duty that we needed to take care of him without outside help,” Mr. Ryan said. “He made the decision that he wanted to come home to die. It was such a hard decision for everybody in our family. And it got to a point where we were all shuffling our lives to try and be there.”

When the hospice team stepped in to care for Mr. Ryan’s brother, he only had a few days left to live. Although saying goodbye to his brother was one of the hardest moments of his life, Mr. Ryan speaks with admiration of the hospice workers who were there during that time. “It was so remarkable,” he said. “They told us what to expect … didn’t tell us how we would feel or what we were gonna do, but the hospice team really walked us through what we probably would experience. And [I could] say to my sister-in-law, I have to go, I’ll be back in 25 minutes, but it’s all right for you to have a nap.”

Since its founding, the Reflections of Peace concert has grown and expanded to include many Island voices. The concert was established in 1996 to celebrate and promote the Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, which provides free end-of-life care for Martha’s Vineyard residents. Mr. Ryan, along with Judy Williamson, Joyce Balboni, and Linda Berg, organized the first concert as a way to unveil the then new renovations to the inside of Our Lady Star of the Sea Church in Oak Bluffs. With newly restored wood carvings and restored gold work, the church wanted the community to enjoy the building, and thought a holiday concert would provide a great opportunity to do just that.

Early on, the organizers decided to make it a benefit concert. Ms. Williamson and Ms. Balboni suggested they pick Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard after seeing friends use the service for their families, and it has remained the beneficiary ever since.

After 17 years, the show moved from the Our Lady Star of the Sea Church to the United Methodist Church in the Campground for three years. This will be the first year the concert is held in Edgartown, and Mr. Ryan is excited that the change of venue will get Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard in front of more people.

“There are some people who have been hurt and are upset with me making the decision to move it to Edgartown,” Mr. Ryan said. “There is a sense of ownership in Oak Bluffs. Many people just wanted it to stay there, and I understand that. And I’m sorry for any angst or sadness that’s caused by it, but it has so grown in 20 years, and I do feel that it’s right to give another town the opportunity to host it.”

This year’s concert, which takes place on Wednesday, Dec. 13, at 7:30 pm, is going to be to be a big, splashy show, according to Mr. Ryan.

The program will feature the voices of the Novem octet, which includes Jenny Friedman, Joyce Maxner, Shelley Brown, Julie Williamson, Ken Romero, Kevin Ryan, Brad Austin, and Dorian Lopes, with accompanist David Rhoderick; the West Tisbury United Congregational Church Choir, under direction of Bill Peek; the Martha’s Vineyard Children’s Choir, under the direction of Lisa Varno, the West Tisbury United Congregational Church handbell ringers, and instrumentals, including acoustic guitar, recorder, percussion, and cello, by Eric Johnson, Ed Merck, Brian Weiland, and Jan Hyer. In all, nearly 60 musicians and singers will fill the Old Whaling Church with traditional Christmas music for an enchanting evening of entertainment.

In a uniquely humble yet energetic style, Mr. Ryan speaks admiringly of his singers and volunteers. With pride he lists the countless acts of giving, the enormous dedication of time and energy and boundless effort they give to producing the concert. In the past, Ms. Williamson, Ms. Balboni, and their friends spent three days decorating the church with flowers.

Executive director Tom Hallahan, now in the second year of his position, attended the concert for the first time last year, and described it as “one of the most beautiful events of the year.” The impact the concert has on Hospice is vital to keeping its services free, but he said the benefits are more than just financial.

“There’s the obvious financial gift, but more importantly it’s about an extension of our community, a time for those who have been affected [or] want to support Hospice to come together,” Mr. Hallahan said. “The holidays are a hard time for people who have lost loved ones, so it’s a part of that ongoing healing. The word generosity does not do [the Ryans] service.”

Mr. Hallahan is truly awed when he speaks of all that Mr. and Mrs. Ryan do to produce the Reflections of Peace concert. “It’s simply amazing when you think about what we have to do for it, which is nothing. We don’t do anything except show up,” he said. “On this Island, [nonprofits] are constantly asking for support and donations and contributions, and our Island community does it over and over again. This is like that, but different in the sense that [the Ryans] have created this event, have done it on [our] behalf; [we] don’t have to do anything.”

Mr. Hallahan describes the concert as an extension of community building for Hospice, “which is really what Hospice is all about,” he said. “It’s a beautiful event in that sense, not just visually beautiful but spiritually beautiful for the community, to have a place to come to celebrate, to remember, to grieve.”

“The real core of what happens that keeps me involved is this generosity of spirit and talent that I just talked about from all of these different groups,” Mr. Ryan said. “We have such a dedicated group of musicians. It’s fabulous. Twenty years — that’s an enormous dedication of time and love. Every note, every bit of that program is just there to honor the Hospice group and what they do.”


Reflections of Peace starts promptly at 7:30 pm on Wednesday, Dec. 13 at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown. The cost of admission is a $20 donation, but additional donations are welcome at the door.


  1. All journalism should be sure to be unbiased and tell the whole story, so let me add a second perspective – based in fact, though the subjective undertone is one of bitter anger, undeniably. Still, these are all just the facts, presented so that the reader may make up his/her own mind about the character of a person.
    Imagine you own land – land that’s been in your family for over a hundred years. Through the machinations of politics and time, and the betrayal of lawyers tasked with helping and instead trying to steal, the land is made to be unbuildable (these machinations happened when you were a very young child, imagine, far too young to have acted to save them) – even though it is part of a subdivision where every other lot for miles around is smaller than yours is and almost every single lot already has a house on it. Imagine you go to the town, pleading your case – and imagine they see the humanity in your plea and agree to grant you a variance. Suddenly, a nightmare that has consumed part of your whole life, anguish over past mistakes, family dynamics, town politics, etc – all that is undone in one fell swoop by the verdict of the Board of Appeals that keeping young Islanders on the Island is important enough to work towards. Even though no variance technically meets (and none has met) all of the requirements, the ZBA has granted variances to dozens to other young people.
    Imagine the jubilation at the news that your land rights are restored. And then imagine that your abutting neighbor appeals your variance, thereby effectively negating it. Although you understand that it is within his legal rights to lay some claim to what you can do with your own property and his actions are legally defensible, you are struck by the mismatch in motivation. The same abutting neighbor who goes in to his own shoe collection to provide shoes to the homeless through his church, who works to support Community Services, who builds the theater community – now seems to lack any care for the homeless who might try to live right next to him. That same neighbor who has enjoyed an unrestricted view of your wooded lot for 20 years is actively trying to prevent you from having your own home on your ancestral land. Imagine the cognitive dissonance you must experience, to see the mean-spirited and petty side of a neighbor that others seem to love. Imagine the cognitive dissonance that he must feel, to believe he’s acting on the right side of principle, while denying a home to someone at the same time. His argument is legally defensible, true, but morally reprehensible – even the judge called him distasteful, but had to concede the particularities of the variance law.
    Imagine then that you must back down for your own sanity, though you still can’t quite see the virtue that others see, based on the facts of your own experience.

  2. I feel for you Maria. But I believe your anger should be at the Board of Appeals that gave false hopes by intentionally violating state law regarding variances. I have followed their practice for years and believe there is a tale to be told if one were to research the history of this practice starting with the initial such variance many years ago and tracking how it has been used over the years to help the “right people.” Let it not be held against the important work of Hospice and the help they have provided to many families Hospice well deserves our support.

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