Why put on another 9/11 concert? 'We need it.'
In 2011, a dedicated congregation of regional leaders representing arts and faith organizations gave life to a concert to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Center tragedy. It is fast becoming a late-summer tradition.
That first Arts and Faith concert was a standing-room-only success -- it was also a soul-inspiring, deeply affecting success.
Former U.S. Sen. John C. Danforth, in his role of priest-statesman, was a principal speaker; Christine Brewer came with her heralded voice, a voice that soars through any auditorium, but was especially inspired in the perfect acoustics of the Sheldon Concert Hall.
Although Danforth’s and Brewer’s contributions were remarkable on this day of emotional gravity and recollection, memorable also was the often-quoted passage in Isaiah about the miraculous friendship of the lion and the lamb, and little children leading all creation in the way of peace.
In 2011, a group of children of our community -- Muslim children as it happened -- took the audience at the Sheldon spiritually from the hall off into a virtual place of peace. The children were arranged in stair steps on the platform. A group of women from the Islamic Foundation of Greater St. Louis sang a song that included these words:
My longings come to my lips as my prayers,
O God, make my life like the light of candle.
May my efforts remove the darkness in this world
Everywhere my works may lead to radiance.
The features of the faces of the children, holding candles, were thrown into high relief by the light of the flames. This metaphorically illuminated the concert hall and the moment as well.
But why try to go home again? Why try to organize encore concerts in an effort to duplicate an experience so extraordinary?
Here’s Paul Reuter to tell us why. He is executive director of the Sheldon Concert Hall, which has been home to all five of the Arts and Faith concerts. He has good reasons to explain why audiences should consider returning year after year.
At the end of the first concert, Reuter said, “I was outside, and I said to Batya, ‘This shouldn’t be just one year. The relationships are too important – beautiful, strong people of faith and artistic talent.’”
Batya is Batya Abramson-Goldstein, a warm, deeply spiritual and well-connected woman who is also executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council. She, Reuter and Opera Theatre General Director Timothy O’Leary are principals of the concert's organization. The indomitable civic leader Carolyn Losos, is chair of Arts and Faith St. Louis and oversees all this activity.
“Tim O’Leary and I have led the charge on the concert,” Reuter continued. “We are blessed with the participation of Christine Brewer; she is a constant.” Other starry participants are David Halen, the virtuoso violinist and concertmaster of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra; soul musician Brian Owens; and jazz pianist Peter Martin.
But to answer the question “Why reinvent the wheel year after year?” more precisely, Reuter said, “Because it is needed.”
The shooting death of Michael Brown in August 2014 is a reason – an enormous and lingering issue to tackle, Reuter noted. So is a regional response to the growing and tragic issue of refugees. The Arts and Faith group already has established contact with Mosaic, the organization that actively recruits and welcomes immigrants to the region, as well as to the esteemed International Institute, an organization that has, since 1919, provided adjustment services for immigrants arriving in St. Louis. Both Mosaic and the Institute are involved now in working with Syrian refugee resettlement.
“Our intention is to build a harmonious St. Louis,” Reuter said. “That is why we are doing this.” He said that, in the process of planning the concerts, participants have gone beyond superficial relationships.
“We trust each other,” he said. Based on this trust, other conversations about diversity, cooperation and understanding have been generated.
“I hope this happens with members of the audience, too,” he said.
At this fifth Arts and Faith concert, members of the audience will be welcomed by the Rev. Starsky Wilson, president and CEO of the Deaconess Foundation and co-chair of the Ferguson Commission.
This presentation – “Building a More Harmonious St. Louis" – will be Sunday, Sept. 20, at the Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Boulevard in Grand Center. Doors open at 4:30 p.m., and the concert begin at 5:30. Admission is free.
Christine Brewer and Brian Owens headline the artistic roster. Their colleagues for the afternoon are In Unison Chorus, the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra’s gospel ensemble; Courage Counts, a vocal ensemble of young people from Ferguson; the Catholic Hispanic ensemble; music by Rabbi James Stone Goodman; a Turkish Muslim group; musical representatives of the Hindu Temple; the Sikh Study Circle and Mormon Rising Generation St. Louis Youth Chorus.