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Sabbatical, 2004
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Divas and September 11th...

Sunday, September 23, 2001

The woman coming towards me as I greeted people after church had long black hair and flashing black eyes.  She was, I learned when we were introduced, a “dramatic soprano,” which in ordinary terms meant she was an opera singer.  The kind that can get up on a stage dressed as a viking goddess and sing more loudly than an entire orchestra.

Her name was Elizabeth Adams, a resident of New York city, visiting Winnipeg to help look after the affairs of her aging mother – a member of St.George’s.  Elizabeth had herself attended St.George’s as a child, had gone to Kelvin High School, and had begun her professional stage career as a chorus member on Rainbow Stage.

She had a favour to ask: would the parish permit her to stage a recital in the church?

It would be a “memorial” – an act of loving remembrance for the people who had perished in the twin towers of the World Trade Center September 11, 2001.

This was only a few days after the terrorist attack that shook the world, and Elizabeth, who had a number of friends and acquaintances who worked in the World Trade Center, didn’t even know at that time who was missing and who had been spared.

“They bombed my home!” she said.  She was distraught, and felt she had to do something, however small, using the gift God had given her: her voice.

Our organist and choirmaster, Stewart Thomson, was drawn in, and soon agreed to become the accompanist for the project.

Then it got kind of personal for me: my daughter, Rachael, came along just then, and was introduced to Elizabeth.  Because Rachael is a singer, and the winner of the prestigious “Rose Bowl” in the 2001 Winnipeg Music Competition Festival, someone in the group made this known, and Elizabeth very graciously said, “Rachael, would you like to perform in the recital with me?”

Plans swiftly grew, and the project became a joint recital between the established New York soprano, the young Winnipeg soprano, and the senior and extremely accomplished Winnipeg accompanist.  They ran through a couple of numbers together, and soon had roughed out a performance which included everything from Wagnerian opera to Broadway – from a haunting “Pie Jesu” to “Amazing Grace.” And we decided to set up an open offering: the money donated would be sent to the care of disaster victims via the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund.

But... with less than a week’s notice, could we get the word out?  Would anybody come?  Even our own congregation by this time had finished their after-church coffee and dispersed.

Thanks to the internet, however, we did manage to do some publicity:  I emailed about a hundred friends and acquaintances, among whom were some members of the media.  And, having given the event the rather startling title, “They bombed my home...!” word seemed to travel very quickly.  As well, we put that title out on our church’s outdoor sign.

Within a few days, Janet Ringer of the CBC had come over to record Elizabeth and Stewart in rehearsal, the Free Press included mention of the project in an article on local reactions to the terrorist attacks, and the “A Channel” had sent over a crew.

When the day finally came, we opened the doors and folks came streaming in.  We didn’t fill the church, but almost two hundred people did come, which was very satisfactory.  And the concert went without a hitch.  The two singers’ voices were a pleasant contrast to one another, and, with Stewart’s sensitive accompaniment, the listening was constantly interesting and a great pleasure.

Later we counted up the gifts that had been donated to the relief effort, and they came to over $1,800.  We are very thankful, and immensely relieved.

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