It’s been 18 years since Roberta Kirn, then music teacher at the Charter School, presented the very first “Songs of Peace, Hope and Light” concert, which has become a popular highlight every December.
In the beginning she envisioned a concert around the Winter Solstice, not a traditional holiday concert, since there were already so many. “I wanted to do something different, and invite everyone to sing,” she recalled.
Next Tuesday evening, Dec. 18, Kirn will lead her Martha’s Vineyard Family Chorus of more than 50 singers, ranging in age from 5 to 70, in a new batch of moving, inspirational, and joyful tunes.
“We need it this time of year — the days are short, and it’s so dark,” said Kirn, who deeply believes that singing is a key to wellbeing and connection among people. “When we sing, we feel our common humanity and our hearts open,” she said. “We are energized and uplifted.”
Kirn, a dedicated song leader who holds Community Sings on the Island each month, conducts group-singing workshops on and off the Island, among many other musical endeavors, and selects each year’s concert songs because she loves them herself. “I feel like the songs choose me,” she said.
When creating Tuesday’s program, Kirn found herself influenced by some of the difficult and painful issues in the world today. “There are songs that call for us to step up and take a leadership role that seem especially appropriate this year,” she said. “There are also several that relate to seeking peace, love, and wisdom.”
She called special attention to the Spanish song whose title translates to “Open the Door”: “That seemed right given all of the people being denied asylum waiting at our borders.”
Another inspiring spiritual, titled “There Is More Love Somewhere,” sings of an unwavering search for love, honesty, truth, and more. “In this time that feels dark in many ways, it seems essential that we keep moving toward love and light,” Kirn said.
The program is abundantly diverse, from songs in Spanish, Hebrew, Sotho (from South Africa), and a Brazilian folk song in Portuguese to a chant in Punjabi, traditional spirituals, and the rousing “As I Went Down in the River to Pray.”
“Rise Up” by singer and activist Melanie DeMore encourages and empowers. “Peace Prayer Mandala” is a soothing layered chant originated at the Findhorn community. Also serene and comforting is the traditional Gaelic “Irish Blessing.”
Short solos will be offered by Kaila Allen-Posin, Jennifer Knight, and Kim Hilliard. Brian Weiland, Paul Thurlow, and Mark Hurwitz will accompany several pieces on guitar, piano, and drums, though most selections will be performed a cappella. The audience will be welcome to join in on many of the songs.
Kirn said members of the earliest choruses came primarily from the Charter School community. Now the M.V. Family Chorus has expanded to include singers from across the Island, some of whom she met through Community Sings or workshops. This year Kirn is thrilled that her daughters Marta and Teo Azzolini, recent college grads, will sing in the concert.
Although it has been nearly nine years since she was a school music teacher, Roberta Kirn seldom has a dull or quiet moment in her busy creative life. Nor has she stopped teaching, for although no longer working in a classroom, educating others about music comes naturally to her, and is part of everything she does.
Along with her local Community Sings and workshops, Kirn travels globally through her own Song Exchange Project, working in Kenya, Zambia, South Africa, Italy, and beyond to learn, teach, and share songs among cultures.
Late this month Kirn leads the Singing for Every Body and Soul workshop at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Stockbridge. Next it’s on to Haiti, her newest Song Project site, then to Cuba in March. May will find her in California, teaching at a song gathering.
Bringing group singing into the corporate world and community gatherings to enhance health, happiness, and connection is another continuing project. “I have a few things going on,” Kirn chuckled after sharing her packed to-do list.
But now her focus is on putting the finishing touches on a musical gift to the Island full of love and spirit. “For me it’s all about the feeling. I would like it to be musical, but if everyone puts their heart in it, we will all be touched, and that’s what I care about most,” Kirn said. “I hope people will walk away with a strong sense of community and connection, and a feeling that hope is alive and well when we tap into our hearts.”
“Winter Concert and Community Sing: Songs of Peace, Hope and Light,” Tuesday. Dec. 18, 6 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Hebrew Center, Vineyard Haven. Free. All ages welcome.