Sarah Price, director of music and worship arts for St. John United Church of Christ in St. Charles, directed the adult choir on Good Friday with one eye on the music and one eye on the storm outside the stained glass windows in the sanctuary.
“We got through the cantata on Good Friday, then moved everybody into the basement," Price said.
The Good Friday tornadoes devastated sections of the cities of Bridgeton, St. Ann and Maryland Heights and also damaged areas in New Melle in St. Charles County.
On Saturday afternoon, Price, a soprano, and friend Jon Garrett, a tenor, gathered in that same sanctuary to raise money to help those whose homes were damaged in the storm.
Price and Garrett collaborated with accompanist Nancy Mayo and artist Bethany Joan Fick for Art Gives Back, a concert and silent auction to raise funds for the ongoing relief efforts.
How does a benefit concert happen so quickly? Price said that she and Garrett knew each other from the St. Louis Chamber Chorus, a 40-voice a cappella choir, and they thought “it would be neat to do something together,” musically--they just didn’t know what.
After the Good Friday tornadoes ravaged the region, it clicked for both of them to put on a benefit concert to raise funds to assist residents affected by these destructive storms. Garrett suggested that funds collected go to Service International (SI), an agency also located in Chesterfield, a group that she had volunteered with. SI was already mobilized with volunteers, supplies and other assistance in the storm-devastated areas.
Price and Garrett are professional musicians who both work for churches. Garrett is the program director of St. Louis Family Church (SLFC) in Chesterfield. Both have academic degrees in music and each has a résumé filled with impressive credits including operatic roles performed, recordings and awards. Both share a love of opera.
Garrett knew Bethany Joan Fick, who is a member of SLFC and owner of Ordained Designs wedding designs in St. Louis. She is an artist, a painter, whose work I would classify as abstract and abstract realism, occasionally using mixed media on her canvases. There is spiritual--even biblical--influence to Fick’s work, especially her themed collection “Hourglass and Eternity.”
One source of her inspiration is a verse from the Book of Ecclesiastes 3:11, which in part reads, “God has planted eternity in the human heart, but even so, people cannot see the whole scope of God’s work from beginning to end.” Fick donated “Hourglass and Eternity No.1” for the silent auction.
The artists could give of their time to volunteer with debris-removal crews or hand out emergency supplies in a disaster-related volunteer effort.
But Art Gives Back benefit was a way to use the best of these individuals’ enormous talent to make a meaningful contribution to their neighbors' need in a faithful and compassionate way.
Trey Perry, a director with SI, spoke to the crowd and explained the organization, its mission and purpose. He told stories of how the SI volunteers helped those with massive amounts of debris to be removed and other property damage from the Good Friday tornadoes.
A free will offering for continued assistance through SI was collected before the singers came back for their final set of songs. Selections from Puccini’s La Boheme, Bizet’s Carmen, and works by Brahms and Schumann all received appreciative applause from the audience.
Price and Garrett are accomplished singers, and the music was engaging, lively and absolutely likable. You don’t need to know opera or love opera to enjoy the music and story told through a glance, a gesture or a smile. It was, as Perry told the crowd, “topnotch music, St. Louis style.”
This is not a concert review, except to say that should you have the opportunity to hear Price or Garrett--or Price and Garrett--do so. After Garrett sang “Flight” by Craig Carnelia, a woman behind me said, “Wow.”Garrett, after Price sang one of her German art song solos, said to the audience, “I have the best seat in the house."
Afterward, I spoke to Price and Garrett, who told me that the total collected for SI from the free will offering and the silent auction was $3,145. It was obvious that they were overwhelmed with this response.
As I left, I thought about all the applause throughout the concert, the standing ovation they received and the encore they sang. I considered that the venue was a church, its sanctuary for the music and foyer for the art exhibit. The total amount raised is an outpouring of generosity from the approximately 150 persons who attended the concert.
Yet I realized that I wasn‘t all that surprised. Those of us who were there heard and saw for ourselves something generous and it was wonderful to see--the artwork--and hear -the singing. It was the gift of creative expression used in a faithful and compassionate effort to help people in need.
Art gives back indeed.
Full disclosure, I served St. John United Church of Christ as associate pastor from January 2003 until November 2010.