Turnout is huge for Sandy Hook commemorative performance

By Melanie Savage - Staff Writer
Willimantic - posted Tue., Jan. 15, 2013
Soloists take their bows with other performers at a concert honoring victims of the Newtown tragedy on Jan. 13 in Willimantic. Shown are pianist Okon Hwang (in glasses), soprano Emily Riggs and baritone Paul Fletcher. Photos by Melanie Savage.
Soloists take their bows with other performers at a concert honoring victims of the Newtown tragedy on Jan. 13 in Willimantic. Shown are pianist Okon Hwang (in glasses), soprano Emily Riggs and baritone Paul Fletcher. Photos by Melanie Savage.

As David Belles was watching the events at Sandy Hook Elementary School unfold, “I knew we needed to respond somehow,” he said. So the professor of music at Eastern Connecticut State University sent out some e-mails to put together a concert. “I was hoping for a choir of maybe 60 people and a string quartet,” he said. But instead, within three days Belles had a list of 250 people from no fewer than 25 different groups from around the state who wanted to participate. “It was completely overwhelming to find out how many people wanted to be involved,” said Belles. But it made sense, added Belles, because that’s what musicians do. “We respond to tragedy using music as a gateway to healing,” said Belles.

Belles sent out learning aids and vocal scores to all potential participants. The chosen piece for the combined ensemble was Faure’s “Requiem,” which Belles said he singled out from among other choices for a couple of reasons. For one thing, the vocal writing is supported almost throughout the piece by instrumentation. And, unlike other requiems, which are essentially masses for the dead, the Faure piece was written for no particular person. “So there was nothing to overshadow the victims at Sandy Hook,” said Belles.

After working with the choral scores for three weeks, singers from as far away as Ithaca, N.Y., as well as from closer locales such as Mystic, Middletown, Vernon, Guilford and Willimantic, converged upon St. Joseph Church in Willimantic for the performance. They had just one and a half hours of rehearsal to put together the piece, which included a live orchestra made up of musicians from a number of different groups. “This is the first time that most of these guys sat down together,” said Belles.

The evening opened with a piece entitled “Panus Angelicus,” written by Anthony Cornicello from Eastern Connecticut State University in memory of Victoria Soto. Soto, hailed worldwide as a hero after she died attempting to shield her first-graders at Sandy Hook, was a graduate of Eastern. The piece was performed by organist Michael McCarthy.

A joint performance by the Guilford High School Chamber Singers and the Eastern Chamber Singers was followed by “Ave Maria,” performed on piano by Okon Hwang.

The requiem was performed in the original Latin. The combined ensemble filled the entire altar area of the beautiful, ornate church. As the chorus proceeded through the sections of the Mass - the Introitus-Kyrie, the Offertorium, the Sanctus, the Pie Jesu, the Agnus Dei, the Libera Me and In Paradisum - the near-capacity crowd appeared transfixed by the beauty of the music.

Among the performers in the chorus was Guilford High School sophomore Stephen Hollo, part of the school’s chamber chorus. He said that his school got involved with the performance because Belles and the Guilford director, Kevin Buno, are friends. Hollo and Buno said that Guilford has performed the entire “Requiem” in the past. “I think this was a beautiful way to commemorate the Sandy Hook victims,” said Hollo, as he helped to disassemble the risers.

Asked by an audience member how he’d managed to pull together such a performance in such a short period of time, Belles response was simple. “It’s magic,” he said.


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