Sing Us Home is high art for the uplift of people brought low by hard circumstances. The heart of the production is a performance of "Beatitude Mass (for the Homeless)" as a fundraiser for First Place, a school and agency for children of homeless families.
Sing Us Home is high art for the uplift of people brought low by hard circumstances.
It is a long way from opera house to homeless shelter, but this concert reaches across that gap.
Vicky Thomas, the choir director at Seattle’s First Baptist Church, and organizer of the event, calls Sing Us Home music with a mission.
The heart of the production is a performance of “Beatitude Mass (for the Homeless)” as a fundraiser for First Place, a school and agency for children of homeless families.
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“Beatitude Mass,” was created by conductor Henry Mollicone, who is best known as an opera composer, and by the playwright William Luce.
The two principal roles will be sung by Juliana Rambaldi and Victor Benedetti, who live in Auburn and perform operas around the world.
When Thomas told Mollicone about her plans, he volunteered to fly up from California and play the piano part himself, for free.
That’s a lot of top-tier talent for a Sunday afternoon church event. Oh, yes, and there’s the orchestra and a 65-voice choir that includes singers from a number of well-known local groups.
The Lakeside High School Chorale, directed by Phyllis Byrdwell, will perform opening songs.
They’re all there because they want their talent to generate more than applause or money.
Thomas pointed to a long history of artists using their gifts to improve the world, ’60s protest songs, civil-rights anthems, South African freedom songs.
And it feels like there is a revival of that tradition. Concerts for Haiti sprang up all over, including a huge one at St. Mark’s Cathedral.
And last year, First Baptist partnered with Bellevue’s First Congregational and the Seattle Peace Chorus to sing for peace on the sixth anniversary of the war in Iraq.
That performance started a project called Singing For Social Justice. This event is a continuation of that.
Mollicone, the composer, told me the “Beatitude Mass” grew from a conversation he had with a friend who is a priest about how to mix art and social justice.
His friend suggested he visit a shelter and talk with homeless people.
He interviewed homeless people in San Jose, and he enlisted the help of Luce to write the libretto. Luce, who lives in Oregon, interviewed some homeless people in Seattle.
They created a work around two characters who are homeless, Adam and Eve, whose words are drawn from those interviews.
Since it was first performed, in 2005, Mollicone has donated all his royalties to organizations that help people in need.
“When you get into social justice, it becomes addictive. You want to become more involved,” he told me.
That’s been true for First Baptist’s Thomas, who grew up in New England, and spent several years living in New York working with arts groups.
In the 1970s and 80s, she attended services at Harlem’s Riverside Church, which is famous for its involvement in progressive causes.
William Sloane Coffin, the minister then, had been chaplain at Yale while she was in college there.
Thomas left New York and spent three years traveling the world, and when she decided to settle down, she picked Seattle, moving here in 1988.
She wanted to live on the West Coast in a city that had good ballet and was close to nature.
She got an M.A. in conducting at the UW and spent 15 years working for Lutheran churches before coming to First Baptist four years ago.
“I’m a church musician,” Thomas said.
“In churches we combine mission and music. We don’t do pure art.”
No, they do pure heart.
Sing us Home featuring the “Beatitude Mass” will be at 3 p.m. March 28 at Seattle First Baptist Church, 1111 Harvard Ave. (www.seattlefirstbaptist.org.)
The performance is free, but people are asked to make an offering.
Jerry Large’s column appears Monday and Thursday. Reach him at 206-464-3346 or firstname.lastname@example.org.