Parish choirs from all over Tompkins County, as well as many instrumentalists, are gearing up for a special Lenten concert.
"The Weeping Tree" will take place Friday, March 20, at Ithaca’s Immaculate Conception Church, 113 N. Geneva St., beginning at 7 p.m. It is free and open to the public. Featuring approximately 45 choir members and an orchestra of 16, this work depicts the last few days of Jesus’ life through music and narration, and contains "some of the most wonderful music and soulful words you may hear all year," according to Gerhard E. Vrabel, Immaculate Conception’s music director.
"This could be considered a ‘musical journey of the Stations of the Cross,’" he said.
In addition to Immaculate Conception, participating parishes are All Saints, Lansing; St. Catherine of Siena, Ithaca; and Holy Cross, Dryden. Vrabel noted that two people from non-Catholic churches are joining in as well. He added that the staging of this event indicates a high level of cooperation, saying that "although our choirs have joined in the past, this is the first unified work of this magnitude in our area."
"This is really a one-of-a-kind event," agreed Doreen Alsen, All Saints’ music director, who is serving as the production’s conductor. "The cooperation among the Catholic music teams in the Tompkins region is unprecedented. Gary has done an amazing amount of work pulling the musicians and singers together, and the interest level of the singers is high. They are very excited."
Vrabel said the joint effort for "The Weeping Tree" stemmed from a discussion among the 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.
In addition, Vrabel said 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.
Vrabel said he was inspired to present "The Weeping Tree" because the cantata "immediately touched me deeply after reviewing it." The music is by Joseph Martin, a resident of Austin, Texas, who is recognized throughout the United States for his many choral compositions both sacred and secular.