Concert to benefit cancer research


Last weekend, thousands took part in the "Avon Breast Cancer 3-Day" walk-a-thon between Baltimore and Washington to raise money for research and treatment. This weekend, another dedicated group will pursue the same goal - through song.

On Mother's Day, the Baltimore Choral Arts Society will present the Maryland premiere of Sing for the Cure, an hourlong work with texts by Pamela Martin and music by 10 composers, to benefit the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.

Joining the 100-member chorus will be Grammy-winning country singer Kathy Mattea as narrator, vocal soloists Allison Miller and Al Johnson, 100 voices from the Baltimore Girls High School Festival Chorus and a full orchestra.

"It's an attempt to connect our organization with real life," says Choral Arts music director Tom Hall, "just as we did in November when we performed Haydn's 'Mass in Time of War.' Listening to that through the prism of the Sept. 11 tragedy seemed to add a layer of intensity."

Sing for the Cure provides plenty of entry points for an audience. In addition to the voice of a survivor, the words in Martin's narration and lyrics (based on national interviews) speak for many others affected by the disease - spouses and partners, siblings and children, relatives and friends.

"It helps you to consider all the different perspectives that people have," says Choral Arts executive director and chorister Beth Miller, whose mother is a 15-year survivor of breast cancer. "Singing the piece brought back the whole experience of what it was like when she was diagnosed, going to the surgeon and deciding what to do."

The music also resonates deeply with chorus member Anne Leavitt, a breast cancer survivor of nine years.

"A few movements in there are very graphic and can really touch an emotional chord," she says. "They brought me to tears. But it's also very beautiful. I think this is a very good way to communicate to the public about this disease."

Hall shares that view.

"There are things music can express and describe that no other art form can," he says, "and I think that's what makes Sing for the Cure so effective. It's about what it means to confront this disease - or any other potentially terminal disease.

"It is very much in-your-face; it makes a blatant attempt to make you cry. But it's not, ultimately, sad. It's about hope and encouragement."

Several of the composers who set Martin's lyrics to music have drawn on their own experiences.

Jill Gallina, a noted composer of children's music, was 13 when her mother died from cancer. Her assignment was to write the tune for "Come to Me, Mother," which asks the questions of a teen-ager - "Was I to blame, Mother? Oh, why did you go?"

Robert Seeley, composer-in-residence of the San Francisco Gay Men's Chorus, has a sister in remission from breast cancer. His song in Sing for the Cure is "Livin' Out Loud Blues (Taking Charge)," a finger-snapping challenge - "I'm not defeated, you have not won; Race is not over, just startin' to run."

There's a streak of humor in Sing for the Cure, too. Patti Drennan, a high school choral director in Oklahoma, has composed a "Valse Caprice" to match Martin's litany of a breast cancer patient's "least favorite things" - "Doctors' exam rooms that feel like a freezer, placing my breast in a large metal squeezer ... Giving up junk food for macrobiotic, convincing myself being bald is exotic."

"The words aren't subtle, and the tunes aren't subtle," Hall says.

The predominant style of those tunes is pop, not classical.

"Choral Arts has never done anything like this," Hall says. "We've never even done a token evening of Rodgers and Hammerstein, so singing pop and gospel-style songs is a different experience. But we wanted to do it because of the idea behind this music."

A few choristers decided they couldn't participate; the subject matter hit too close to home. Leavitt sympathizes with them.

"But I feel on top of the situation now," she says. "It never occurred to me not to sing it."

Miller feels the same way.

"It is hard to sing, but you just have to distance yourself," she says. "It may sound trite, but I'm happy to be participating in this. It makes me feel very blessed."


What: Sing for the Cure

Where: Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St.

When: 3 p.m. Sunday

Tickets: $15 to $55

Call: 410-783-8000

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