Lenten concert in Tompkins County is a big success - Catholic Courier

Lenten concert in Tompkins County is a big success

When a first-time venture results in a standing ovation, you know you’ve got something worth repeating.

Parish choirs from all over Tompkins County, as well as many instrumentalists, collaborated for a special Lenten concert, "The Weeping Tree," on the evening of March 20 at Ithaca’s Immaculate Conception Church. Featuring nearly 50 choir members and an orchestra of 16, the presentation depicted the last few days of Jesus’ life through music and narration.

Participating parishes were Immaculate Conception as well as All Saints, Lansing; St. Catherine of Siena, Ithaca; and Holy Cross, Dryden, along with a handful of musicians from non-Catholic churches. The event allowed attendees to experience a profound Lenten tradition, the Stations of the Cross, set in its typical Friday-evening time slot but enhanced by stirring music. It drew approximately 650 people.

"We had a full house, which is saying something at Immaculate Conception given how big it is," remarked Doreen Alsen, All Saints’ music director, who served as the production’s conductor.

The idea for staging "The Weeping Tree" was originated by Gerhard E. Vrabel, Immaculate Conception’s music director, who described it as a "’musical journey of the Stations of the Cross." The music is by Joseph Martin of Austin, Texas, who is recognized throughout the United States for his many choral compositions both sacred and secular.

Vrabel said that the cantata "immediately touched me deeply after reviewing it." He added that making "The Weeping Tree" a joint venture began among area music directors last summer as they prepared for a fall confirmation service at Immaculate Conception.

"We discussed the possibility of doing some combined work in the future, perhaps if only to promote membership and for fun," he said. "Although our choirs have joined in the past, this is the first unified work of this magnitude in our area."

Vrabel also noted that he was seeking a way to honor Immaculate Conception parishioners who, through their generous support of a second collection last year for the music ministry, had enabled the parish to purchase a new piano.

"I thought, ‘I would love to do "The Weeping Tree," with orchestra, at no charge, as a gift back to them, and use our new piano in the production,’" Vrabel said.

The end result featured Immaculate Conception’s piano and a whole lot more. Vrabel spearheaded an effort that included not only bringing the choirs together but also finding instrumentalists and narrators; collecting such props as a cross, crown of thorns and robe; and spreading publicity. A number of rehearsals, both among individual parish choirs and jointly along with the instrumentalists, occurred over the winter months.

All this preparatory effort was obvious to Alsen on March 20.

"The music was professional sounding. I was very happy with the choir’s work. By the time I finished working with them they sounded like they had been singing together forever," Alsen said, adding that the orchestra, also, performed at a high level with its combination of professionals, Ithaca College music students and area high-schoolers.

"I am extremely happy with the quality of the music, both vocal and instrumental," Vrabel commented. "I don’t think that not having sung together as a group before had any effect on the quality of the music."

Alsen had labeled the concert, prior to its staging, as a "one-of-a-kind event." Now, after a performance that brought audience members to their feet, there might just be more teaming up down the road from area Catholic parishes.

"I have had people ask about further information as to where and when we are going to do it again, not only from the musicians, but many from the audience," Vrabel said.

"All the singers I spoke to after the concert are eager to do something like this again," Alsen said. "I certainly hope this paves the way for future ventures. I’ve always thought I’d like to start a Tompkins Region Catholic Chorale, so maybe now is the time. I really hope so."

Vrabel said he was glad so many people were touched by the concert — but also that "if we had just one person feel the presence of Christ’s suffering and love for them, then my mission was accomplished."

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