A Patchwork in Song

By Liz Massey, Dec. 4, 2014.

The Valley of the Sun premiere of the AIDS Quilt Songbook, a musical companion to the quilt panels collected by the NAMES Project, will take place at two area churches in early December, according to event organizers. The performances are intended as a benefit for Aunt Rita’s Foundation.

The concerts will take place Dec. 11 at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral and Dec. 13 at Desert Foothills United Methodist Church in Ahwatukee.

According to Susan Hurley, a vocalist who is orchestrating the concerts as well as performing in them, she discovered the AIDS Quilt Songbook about two years ago as she was reviewing the contemporary classical repertoire for singers.

She noted that the songbook was the brainchild of the late baritone William Parker, who gathered 18 songs by 18 composers for the inaugural performance at Lincoln Center in New York in 1992. Hurley said she and her fellow vocalists will sing a number of works from that original set.

“The songs really carry the energy of things that happened in the 1980s,” she said. “They definitely speak to the experiences of gay men dealing with homophobia and AIDS-phobia.”

The concerts will also feature two of the nearly 50 songs that have been added to the songbook since its inaugural performance.

One tune, written by Grammy Award-winning composer Herschel Garfein, highlights the international nature of the epidemic by imagining a sex worker in an unnamed developing nation conducting a safer sex workshop. The other, a moving ballad by jazz pianist and composer Fred Hersch, discusses the medication regimen that a long-term AIDS survivor must take in order to live an “ordinary” life.

Hurley said that both composers donated their unpublished scores to this effort, specifically for use in the upcoming Phoenix benefit concert.

Several accomplished vocalists will join Hurley on the stage for the concerts, including tenor Tim Briggs, who will graduate from the School of Music at Arizona State University in December; bass John Pierce Kraft, who has performed with the Intimate Opera Company of Indianapolis and Opera Revolution of Arizona; and Mario Vazquez-Morillas, who has performed with ASU’s Lyric Opera Theatre and done stage direction for the Hermosillo Opera in Mexico.

The soloists will be accompanied by William Reber, former director of the ASU Lyric Opera Theatre who has conducted more than 150 productions of operas, musicals and ballets around the world.

Hurley stressed that concerts were an all-volunteer effort, with 100 percent of the proceeds going to Aunt Rita’s. She said she hoped each concert would raise as much as $2,000.

The Thursday night performance at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral will be held in conjunction with a display of panels from the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.

Beyond enjoying the opportunity to hear selections from the songbook performed in Phoenix for the first time and the chance to help a local AIDS service organization, Hurley said she hoped concert-goers would appreciate the beauty of the songs themselves.

“The songs are outstanding,” she said. “They have such power. These are excellent technical and functional works of art.”

Hurley said she hoped that the concert would remind people of all ages and walks of life that the battle against AIDS was a continuing one.

“We live in a unique time right now,” she asserted. “Some long-term survivors of the 1980s and ’90s see their experiences being forgotten within their own lifetimes, even as a generation of adults has come to maturity without any memory of those early years. The songs on this concert bring to life a wide range of experiences, past and present, from the 30-year history of AIDS. I believe these songs have the power to touch hearts, to inspire imagination and compassion, and to connect people across the generational divide.”

Tickets to the concert are $20, with $10 discounted tickets available for students and senior citizens.

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