Sunday, December 17, 2017

Live...from California (UPDATED so you can actually see the pictures)

Demonstrating the fine work of a Hollywood make-up artist.
We are at the final stop of our coast-to-coast Christmas concert tour: Culver City, CA. It has been an amazing couple of weeks, punctuated by confirmations every so often that God is working behind the scenes bestowing every sort of grace upon the thousands (yes, thousands) of people who have come to share our music. I had intended to keep you posted in a more timely manner, but the pace of the tour made that impossible--and, truth to tell, I am better off not trying to multi-task during such an intensive period when we have very few moments of downtime. And now that I do have a bit of space (enough to set up a tablet and Bluetooth keyboard), I have forgotten most of the anecdotes I planned to share! I guess I have gotten into the kind of space where what I am focusing on is the next concert and what I need to do to prepare for that (like iron the blouses and habits that I just peeled out of my suitcase), rather than look back fondly on what has already been done.

Still there were highlights all along the way, starting with our initial concert at St Luke's parish in HoHoKus, NJ. The parish staff could not have been more welcoming, and the crowd (most of them first-timers) was very receptive. There were also some longtime fans, including Pauline Cooperators and one family from the other end of New Jersey for whom the sisters' concert has become an essential part of the Christmas season. This family has two special needs adult children, and it is very moving for us to see how much joy the concert program brings them.

The next evening was our annual benefit dinner/concert on Staten Island, the longtime home of the
Daughters of St Paul (since the 1940's I think). Since our convent is so small, sisters found hospitality with several Island families and with our own brother community, the Society of St Paul. This year was our 23rd annual concert, so the plans are already on for a big blow-out celebration in two years. The morning after the concert, we were treated to an Italian cooking demo (and feast) by Chef Vittorio, who sent us home with plenty of leftovers and a Christmas panettone (and torrone) each! We had the rest of the day (actually, we left the restaurant at 2 pm) to get to Boston for our motherhouse concerts.
The Boston concerts surpassed all previous years, with over 1,100 people coming to the two performances. (We are going to have to figure something else out for next year.) This is the only concert that comes with a craft fair featuring the sisters' handmade articles and homebaked cookies. (Sister Marlyn's felt nun dolls sold out before the first note was even sung, and the winter headbands I crocheted also sold out.)

Thankfully, we had a day to rest before heading to the next destination: St Louis, where I had been stationed for three years as a junior sister. We have a very active advisory board there, and some of the family members of the board members from my years in St Louis are still involved in the Pauline mission alongside newer friends. Their degree of fervor and of active collaboration in our mission is outstanding--as is the inspirations God seems to send in raising up new collaborators, like the sisters' handyman. It seems that he had a dream one night, and upon waking told his wife, "I'm supposed to help the nuns at a bookstore. Do you know any nuns with a bookstore?" (She did indeed.) Or like Dr Mathews before him (read his story here). Sister Nancy is from St Louis, as is our current provincial superior (and former choir member) Sister Donna. Having family in the audience almost feels like "salting the pot," but the crowd filled the fabulous theater (at Chaminade College Prep): next year we will probably need to have the balcony seats available, too.

It was about this time that the wildfires broke out in Southern California, getting within four miles of our Culver City convent. (The community there even got the official text message telling them to get their bags ready for evacuation.) Suffice it to say that I found out that "the show must go on" is taken very, very seriously in California.

From St Louis we flew to Cleveland where we met our dear friend and former motherhouse chaplain, Bishop Lennon, for lunch. It was Bishop Lennon who had first invited us to sing in the Cathedral nine years ago, and this year his successor, Bishop Perez, made sure to greet us after our "curtain call." Also in Cleveland was a group of three young women who had made a road trip from Buffalo for the event. One of them, a musician, is in discernment with us!

Sr Bethany's view from the Loyola control booth.
Then it was on to my favorite city, New Orleans, for back-to-back concerts that I know Mom in Heaven had something to do with. They were even held at Loyola! The last time I sang on a stage at Loyola was for my freshman finals in voice; I don't know if I mentioned in an earlier post that my voice teacher, Mary Tortorich, died just this past March (at age 104). (In the early 2000's,she was also Sr Julia's voice teacher!) It couldn't be helped that in New Orleans, I was very much aware of the family members in the audience. I didn't even manage to see all the cousins who were in the upper rows; I only found out later that they had come. Heck, even the Archbishop came! But perhaps the most meaningful part of the New Orleans concerts was that one little girl was particularly moved. With severe ADHD, she "doesn't get much human interaction," her mother wrote, but she "is still talking about her time with the sister on the stage and she is telling us that she wants to embrace God more in her heart, because of the message she received from the concert. I pray ya’ll continue to do good work and keep singing and spreading the good news."

Cafe au lait (poured the traditional way) with dessert.
Before the Monday evening concert there was enough time to visit the French Quarter with two of my sisters and a friend of one of them who was visiting from Michigan. I did two new-to-me things that afternoon: ate (1) soft-shelled crabs at (2) Antoine's, where the lunch special was just perfect for the four of us. We also stopped at Central Grocery for a half-muffalata (which I split with Jane's friend); it provided for my Monday supper and for my lunch the next day on the flight to LA.

And so we came to SoCal for our first West Coast concerts! Thankfully, we had a few days to rest and
rehearse while catching up with Pacific Time, and the sisters had arranged a TV appearance on a Spanish-language program run by a Catholic ministry, "El Sembrador" (the Sower). I was impressed with their beautiful studios, Blessed Sacrament chapel (for the daily Mass broadcast which preceded our appearance), and the poise and professionalism of the staff. The show we were on includes a sharing of the Word of God, interviews on matters of interest to the Spanish-speaking community and ... the singing nuns. We had to learn how to sing in a tight arrangement with wired mics snaking across the floor.

On Thursday there was even enough time for me and Sr Mary Martha to make our first-ever visit to the Getty Museum, where I saw some of my favorite works of art (and made the museum security personnel very nervous: "Please step back"; "Please don't point.")

I was really impressed by the way our lay Cooperators came together to plan every step and provide for every need along the way, from food to, yes, make-up by Hollywood make-up professionals who donated their services. See, we weren't only singing for the people in the audience: we were singing for the cameras of Roma Downey's "LightWorkers," a values-oriented media production company/website.

It was a joy to see how our concert brought Hollywood professionals into contact with each other,
strengthening the network of Catholics in "the Industry." In addition to the make-up artists, our concert benefitted from a local DJ's services while the audience gathered (and again at intermission and after the program) and a comedian who opened for us.

We even had a red carpet and a "step and repeat"; the organizers couldn't fathom us skipping this Hollywood essential.

We shared the stage with five enormous LED video panels that provided backdrops for everything. (Actually, the video backgrounds were a feature of all of our concerts except Cleveland--but in most places we only had one relatively large background screen; here we had an enormous background and four additional vertical panels. In between songs, we took turns saying a little something to connect the song with an aspect of faith. Most of the time, the sisters couldn't help but deliver this with a large dose of humor that brought its own healing power. 

There were unexpected technical challenges (well, given the complexity of the show here, we should have expected them!). Illness, too, began to wear us down. Of the nine singers who arrived, only eight made it to the stage on Friday night. (It will be good to get back home to Boston on Monday evening after these three weeks on the road!)

All along the way we met people who opened their hearts to us and to the message we were there to help them celebrate. We heard their prayer intentions and presented their burdens to the Lord in our prayer--and will continue to do so. This kind of thing makes a huge impression on us, that people entrust their sufferings and hopes to us and let go of them enough to fully enter into the concert.

The theme of this year's concerts was "Love Among Us: Love that Comes, that Sustains, that Gives." We pray that for the thousands of people we met over these past weeks, Christmas will be just that.

No comments: