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Sept. 11 Concert Focuses On Uniting Community

Ray Marklin

Greek Orthodox, Muslim and Hindu musical ensembles are just part of the lineup for the fourth annual September 11th Interfaith Commemoration in Music: An Appreciation of Religious Diversity.

Sunday’s event is the work of Arts & Faith St. Louis, a coalition of local arts and faith leaders. The show focuses on bringing people of different ethnicities and faiths together both on stage and in the audience.

Timothy O’Leary, general director of Opera Theater of St. Louis and a concert committee member, said the concert started as a way to redefine what Sept. 11 means to us.

“At the time of the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11, it was becoming an increasingly politicized and polarizing day,” O’Leary said. “We were hopeful that if we created a musical community event that was about uniting people that this could help evolve the meaning of the date.”

It’s the event that will evolve this year, as organizers have worked to make Ferguson one of the event's focuses.

Batya Abramson-Goldstein is executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis, which helped organize the concert. She thinks the event's focus on creating community across difference is entirely appropriate given what the St. Louis region has gone through with Ferguson.

“What I think is so remarkable about this year, is that the concert has proved itself as a responsive type event,” Abramson-Goldstein said. “This event is offered to allow reflection and unify the community in hope for peace. And we are speaking of the peace of this community as well after these turbulent weeks.”

To shine a spotlight on the broader diversity of the community, organizers recently made a handful of additions to this year’s program. One of the newly included acts is the Normandy High School Choir.  

Rising to the challenge

It’s been a hectic start to the school year for Normandy High School Choir Director Duane Foster. Last year, 18 of his 24 choir students graduated. This year’s choir is filled with 36 mostly new faces. It’s only been about three weeks since the school year started, and Foster says the group hasn’t had a lot of time to prepare for the concert.

The Normandy High School Chorale performing in February 2014.
Credit Tim Lloyd | St. Louis Public Radio
The Normandy High School Choir performs at an event honoring Rosa Parks on Feb. 23, 2014.

“This group has only had maybe seven rehearsals and only three with an accompanist,” Foster said. “I’ve been a bit of a taskmaster these first few weeks. It’s been two weeks of me yelling and screaming and having mood swings and praying that these children decide to stay in my class. Normally it would be different because we aren’t preparing for a show so early in the year, but the students are rising to the occasion.”

Although it’s been a stressful start to the school year, Foster says he is glad for the opportunity, especially because the event honors Sept. 11, a day that Foster says he holds close to his heart.

“I lived in New York. I was there for 9/11. I lived in Riverdale, right off the Bronx,” he said. “I lost a friend in the tragedy; and every year I make a big deal out of 9/11. I show the calling of the names they do on that morning in my class. My students know it’s a big part of me.”

Foster says he hopes participating in the concert will provide a learning opportunity for his students.

“They need to understand that even though 9/11 happened back in 2001, we’ve had many more tragedies that have happened in our society and they need to realize that music is a healing agent and music has a way of uniting people that otherwise wouldn’t be united,” Foster said. “The healing is something that is an integrated effort.”

Moving beyond the music

Abramson-Goldstein says each year the concert creates a sense of unity for everyone involved.

'Becoming Neighbors' was created by artist Henryk Ptasiewicz Diane Tessman.
Credit Emanuele Berry | St. Louis Public Radio
'Becoming Neighbors' was created by artist Henryk Ptasiewicz Diane Tessman.

“When we hear this beautiful diversity of kinds of musical styles all juxtaposed, when we hear musical expression by both the most accomplished professional musicians of our day alongside those of non-professionals backgrounds, the common thread of our shared humanity is impossible not to feel.”

But event organizers want that shared sense of humanity to carry on after the concert, which is why they commission an interactive piece of art for the event.; This year’s piece is titled ‘Becoming Neighbors.”’

Leslie Heberlie works with the Interfaith Partnership of Greater St. Louis and helped coordinate the artwork for this year’s event.

“We started with the idea of neighbors, which is how we refer to those we live around and those we want to consider neighbors,” Heberlie said. “But what was really special was adding in that word 'becoming,'' because it puts the focus on the processes. And becoming neighbors is a process. The piece of art will encompass and holds that meaning for us.”

Concert goers will have the opportunity to write a prayer or a thought inspired by the concert on a piece of ribbon. They can then attach the ribbon to the "Becoming Neighbors" structure and then take a flower from the artwork home, as a reminder to promote unity in their lives daily.

‘Becoming Neighbors’ will be on display at the Sheldon Concert Hall after the show. 

Related Event

Arts and Faith St. Louis Presents "The Fourth Annual September 11th Interfaith Commemoration in Music: "An Appreciation of Religious Diversity"

When: 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 7, 2014

Where: Sheldon Concert Hall, 3648 Washington Blvd.

Tickets: Free, available at the box office at 4:30 p.m. the day of the concert

For more information visit the Arts and Faith St. Louis website