When Choral Artists of Sarasota elected to begin their season with a program centered around prayer and consolation, the group had never heard of a potential hurricane named Ian.
Now, after a near-miss in Sarasota and a direct hit on communities like Fort Myers, Choral Artists is donating 10% of its ticket sales to the Suncoast Disaster Recovery Fund. The Rotary Club of Sarasota and the Patterson Foundation have pledged to match all donations made to the Suncoast Disaster Recovery Fund.
Joseph Holt, the artistic director of Choral Artists, said that he had hoped to show commonalities between people of all religions and spiritual backgrounds with Say a Little Prayer.
Storm season just made the event a little more literal than he had intended.
“We're all praying for the poor folks of our southern neighborhoods, down in Fort Myers and Port Charlotte and North Port," says Holt of the program. "We’re definitely praying for their safety, for their comfort, for the cost of their recovery. And also we’re singing the prayer of thanksgiving that somehow it spared us in the process.”
Holt, in designing the program, wanted to have songs from a diverse group of cultures.
He decided to open the event with a piece by Native Americans, "Creator, Open Our Hearts," and he also has prayers from Judaism and Christianity.
Choral Artists revisits the Native American theme early in the program with a song called "Guide Me as I Walk Along," a traditional Cherokee hymn penned during the Trail of Tears.
There’s even a Buddhist prayer, but that one’s sung in English.
“It’s difficult to sing in Sanskrit,” Holt says.
The language isn't the only consideration.
Holt says he consulted with rabbis and musicians who work in synagogues to make sure that the Choral Artists performance of Kaddish, a Jewish prayer in memory of the departed, is appropriate to be sung in a church.
The challenge, of course, is to these songs out of their native context and to weave them into a greater narrative.
“As a musician, especially in this particular medium, you're trying to find pieces that offer contrast as well as offer some dramatic flow,” says Holt of the program. “That was a challenge because a lot of prayerful music is reflective. It became a huge challenge for me to find some pieces that had some drama to them.
"And now the program does have a beautiful flow to it, and goes between the various religions with this commonality of prayer.”
Choral Artists last performed in July, and Holt says that segments of the group are often meeting and socializing with each other even in the off-season. There will be at least one new voice in the mix in mezzo-soprano Krista Laskowski, who has sang at a variety of churches in town.
Laskowski, who grew up in the surrounding environs of Rochester, New York, recently performed in "The Bat’s Revenge" with Gulfshore Opera, and she sang with Key Chorale last year.
Holt says Laskowski auditioned for Choral Artists in July and made a big impression.
“She's a marvelous mezzo soprano,” he says. “I realized: ‘Here’s a major talent. We need to get her involved as soon as possible.' So we're going to feature (her) later this year.”
Laskowski, who earned a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in music from the University of Indiana, said earlier this month that she had yet to meet many of her new singing brethren in Choral Artists.
She was looking forward to rehearsing and getting to perform with the group for the first time.
"It's a completely different world," she says of moving from New York. "It's been such a positive experience, especially being near Sarasota and honestly the west coast of the state in general. It's such a nice refreshing thing to come down here, too, because that was something I was a little afraid of leaving in New York City."
Laskowski has performed with a variety of opera groups including Odyssey Opera, Opera Tampa, Boston Opera Collaborative, MassOpera and New Voices Opera, but she says that it's nice to get out of her comfort zone and sing on works that she maybe hasn't had a chance to sing as much in the past.
"I'm really excited about these pieces," she says. "They're so beautiful. And they're so diverse."
Spencer Fordin, the Observer's A+E editor, hails from New York and graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in journalism in 1999. Fordin previously worked as a sportswriter for MLB.com for 16 seasons and as a features reporter for The Cayman Compass on Grand Cayman.