When devastating floods ravaged West Virginia on June 23 of last year, there was an outpouring of support from across the state and around the nation. Like many of his fellow West Virginians, Sam Spears, director of choral and vocal activities at Fairmont State University, wanted to do something for those whose lives had been upended by the tragedy.
Although he wasn’t sure what form his assistance would take, Spears knew that comfort could be found in music. He did not know people in all of the areas affected by the floods, but he was acquainted with Barbara Lutz, the director of choral music at Greenbrier East High School. Greenbrier County was one of the hardest hit by the floods, with 15 deaths and hundreds of people forced from their homes.
Spears reached out to Lutz, who was struggling to find ways to help her students deal with the loss of their homes, and in some cases neighbors, friends and family members. It took a while for the two to come up with an idea that resonated with them and the students. They finally decided that bringing both choirs together to sing music that spoke to their hearts was a way to help the high school students process their grief and to give the college students a deeper understanding and empathy for what their younger counterparts had experienced.
Lutz held a contest among her students to pick a name for the project, and the winner was Healing through Harmony suggested by Rosie Ketchum.The concept finally came into sharper focus after the Christmas holidays, and now the Greenbrier East Choir Boosters have moved into high gear to coordinate and fund a concert tour featuring performances by the combined choirs in Lewisburg, Charleston, Fairmont and Washington, DC.
Lutz says that 34 students from the chamber and concert choirs at Greenbrier East will participate in the tour, along with approximately 30 students from Fairmont State. She adds that her students are very excited to be singing with the college students.
The first concert will take place Wednesday, Mar. 29, at 7:30 p.m. in the new Student Activities Center at the West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine in Lewisburg. Joining the two choirs will be members of the Greenbrier Valley Chorale, a community choir also conducted by Lutz. Spears also plans to bring members of the community choir he conducts in Fairmont. Admission is free.
All of the singers will join for two pieces featured in the Greenbrier Valley Chorale’s concert held last Sept. 11 in memory of victims of 9/11 and the floods. They are Eliza Gilkyson’s haunting “Requiem,” written after the devastating Asian tsunami of 2004, and “My Home Among the Hills,” which has become one of West Virginia’s unofficial state songs
The students will then travel to Charleston for a concert at Christ United Methodist Church on Thursday, Mar. 30, and then on to Fairmont State where they will perform on Friday, Apr. 1. They will travel to Washington, DC, on Saturday and perform there on Sunday at a location to be determined. Additional information about those concerts will be announced soon.
Lutz invited her students to have input in selecting the music for this unique effort, and their selections reflect the theme of the project – the redeeming power of music. They include Dan Forrest’s “Always Something Sings,” based on a text by Ralph Waldo Emerson, and the uplifting hymn “How Can I Keep From Singing.”
“Working on this concert has made my students thankful for what music can do for you. When you sing, you feel better. It has a healing ability. When you join your voices, you lift yourself above the pain,” Lutz says.
The GEHS Music Boosters are seeking volunteers to house and provide transportation for the Fairmont University students on Mar. 29 and to help prepare a dinner for them before the concert. They are also seeking monetary donations to help defray the cost of the trip so that all students can participate at minimal cost. Anyone interested in volunteering or making a donation should contact Rebekah Foster at firstname.lastname@example.org. Checks made out to GEHS Choir Boosters may be mailed c/o Barbara Lutz to Greenbrier East High School, One Spartan Lane, Lewisburg, WV 24901.