Thursday, October 1, 2009

Sweet charity

The last year or two have been rough on Boston's classical singers. So rough that most of them respond to questions about hard times with, "I'd rather not comment about that."

But every cloud has its silver lining, and as the economy has headed south, and many local jobs have dried up, the singing community has been banding together as never before. And this weekend, in a pretty-much-unprecedented concert, singers from just about every major local classical group will join forces to present "The Singers' Voice", a concert benefiting the newly-founded Boston Singers' Relief Fund, which will provide financial relief to New England classical singers who have experienced catastrophic life events.

Spearheading the effort is local conductor Murray Kidd (at left). I spoke to Kidd recently about the concert, the relief fund, and his involvement with both:

HR: I understand the Boston Singers' Relief Fund is your brainchild. What inspired you to take on such a project?

MK: It's true I was the one who started this effort, but only with the encouragement of many, many people, as you can imagine. I suppose the inspiration for the relief fund came to me years ago, when I landed a full-time job at a music school as an admin. I was doing auditions and practicing on nights and weekends and trying to make it into the "scene." I soon got a call for a long run that actually included a performance in New York, at Avery Fischer Hall. That meant asking for a day or two off from my job, but I didn't think that seemed too unreasonable. To my surprise, however, my boss informed me (very nicely) that I would be needed during the time I had requested and I couldn't have the time off. Needless to say, my resignation letter was being typed in my head as she spoke the words to me. But once I'd quit, I realized I was out on a limb financially and things were not likely to change any time soon! It was then that I first thought about a fund for singers.

HR: What brought the idea to fruition now?

This past year, as the concert load for singers has been reduced, it seemed to me as good a time as any to "do something." I felt I was in a position, unlike the time of that first gig, to help create a better environment for singers going forward. When I pitched the idea to friends, colleagues, and a few organizations, I was very encouraged by the response. There was not much time, as this was early summer, but I felt the time was ripe and if I didn't do it then, I might not ever do it.

HR: Tell me more about the Boston Singers' Relief Fund and how it will be administered.

MK: Well, I am the founder of the Fund, and the producer of "The Singers' Voice," the gala concert to launch it. After October 3rd, I will act as clerk to the Fund. Peter Gibson, who has many years of experience in the financial world, will chair the Fund. Our treasurer is Erica Finn, a senior accountant in the health care field. Also on the committee are Brett Johnson and Gail Abbey.

My vision, of course, is that the Fund will provide assistance in the form of grants. I would also like to see it eventually provide no-interest loans, and scholarships to families of singers. I want to note that we will not be providing money for career assistance. Rather, we will provide the working singer with enough money to get by if they are faced with a life-changing situation that is beyond their means. First and foremost, we want to help singers. Our motto is, "Keeping the voices of New England strong," and that's what we plan to do.

HR: This concert sounds like a huge effort.

Yes, it is a huge effort! I've been living and breathing this concert for the past four months. But it has also been very gratifying calling colleagues and catching up a bit before we talk "business." I have also been able to reach out to new singers in the area. Everyone has a story and is dedicated to singing and the joy it brings to all our lives.

I want to emphasize that the support we've received from the singers themselves is the most notable aspect of the whole project. They're all performing for free and are giving generously of their time and effort. And the program is not the usual repertoire for some, so there have been a few more rehearsals than the usual "pro bono" benefit might require.

HR: Who in particular has been instrumental in helping the concert come together?

It's a long list, so I hope I'm not going to leave anybody out! Organizations who have given valuable support include UMASS/Lowell, the College of Arts and Sciences; New England Conservatory, School of Continuing Education; Boston Baroque; the Handel and Haydn Society; and Polymnia Choral Society (full disclosure, I'm their music director). Many colleagues have also given me guidance with certain aspects of the fund and the concert, including Tom Vignieri of "From the Top," Demetrius Spaneas, Marie-Helene Bernard and Cliff Rust of H&H, Carole Friedman of Boston Baroque, Nina Coppens, Frank Talty, and Paula Telesco of UMASS/Lowell, and the Oversight Committee for the Fund itself, Brett Johnson, Peter Gibson, Gail Abbey and Erica Finn. I can't forget to mention the Boston Singers' Resource. They are the fiscal sponsor of the Boston Singers' Relief Fund. Lynn Shane has been very supportive and helpful in many aspects of this process.

HR: Tell me more about that unusual program - any particular highlights we could look forward to?

MK: (laughing) The entire program is one big highlight! Sorry, but it's hard not to say that. It's an incredibly diverse program designed to showcase the abilities of the singers. Richard Knisley will be our guest MC, and the concert will include the presentation of a special Senate Citation to all the professional singers of Massachusetts. Of special note is the Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music. It features 13 soloists from the group. Also, it's just one of the most beautiful pieces ever composed. Barbara Kilduff (at left), who has sung the role of Adele in Die Fledermaus all over the world, including the Met and San Francisco Opera, will be singing the "Laughing Aria." "Dan-u-el," by Kirke Mechem will feature baritone Donald Wilkinson (at right). It is a rousing aria from Mechem's opera, Songs of the Slave. One more: "The Lee Shore," by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor is a unique addition to the program. Coleridge-Taylor is not performed often, but his music is rich and exciting. I love that piece.

The main highlight, however, is the amazing ensemble you will see. Never before has there been a group comprised of singers from so many diverse backgrounds. Ensembles represented are Blue Heron, Cantata Singers, Boston Baroque, Handel & Haydn Society, Boston Lyric Opera, Opera Boston, Boston Opera Collaborative, Boston Secession, Emmanuel Music, Boston Camerata, Capella Clausura, Church of the Advent Choir - and I am sure I'm forgetting someone. This is a one-of-a-kind concert!

"The Singers' Voice" will take place this Saturday, October 3, at 8 PM at the Church of the Covenant in Back Bay. Tickets are available here.

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