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‘Music & Reflection’ Weaves Together Soothing Harmonies, Melodies



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One of the first events publicly acknowledging the seven years that have passed since the Sandy Hook tragedy, filled Newtown’s Congregational Church with beautiful, inspiring melodies December 11 as resident Joy Hoffman presented “An Evening of Music & Reflection.”

The 100-minute program featured Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter Les Julian and a host of other musicians performing a variety of material from toe-tapping bluegrass and introspective chanting, to spiritual favorites and an original song by Mr Julian and co-writer Tom Hazuka inspired by 12/14 and dedicated to all those who died on that horrific morning in 2012.

Looking back on the tragedy and toward Saturday’s marking of the seventh year since the incident that drew global attention to the community, Ms Hoffman recognized “there is still unimaginable sadness and pain around what occurred,” but reminded the approximately 75 attendees that “to live forever in the depths of sadness is to let darkness win.”

Ms Hoffman said she believes “trauma can open our hearts to the ability to truly understand empathy and compassion — to love our neighbor as ourselves.” She said it is often those “who have suffered the greatest losses that develop the greatest capacity to appreciate the blessings that are constantly surrounding us.

“In the space of true heartfelt connection, love and joy magically bloom,” she said. “When there are no more words to say, no more tears to shed, we will be comforted tonight with the beautiful sound of music.”

The program opened with Ann Cote, a local pianist, singing and performing three numbers. Ms Cote began singing in church choirs at her home congregation in Bridgeport, and taught Sunday school music for more than ten years at Salem Lutheran Church.

She opened her part of the program accompanying herself on piano to “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.” Stepping away from the instrument, she transitioned to an a cappella rendition of “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” as echoes of her voice reverberated through the local church.

Next, pianist and singer Kari Haxhinasto and her daughter, Grace, were joined by the band Louvar performing a number of original songs. The word louvarei means “I will praise” in Portuguese.

The band consists of local artists Joe Manning, Matt Garcia, Gabriel Campanholi, and Dirceu Modesto.

The simple arrangements performed helped keep the focus on the lyrics and delicate harmonies that blended so beautifully between mother and daughter, although Mr Garcia was featured on two selections, including the moving “Broken Vessels,” during which he mirrored the melody line on guitar. The Haxhinastos closed their set with “Oceans,” as Kari Haxhinasto reflected how God “may take us to greater depths than we may be comfortable with — but He is always with us.”

Mr Julian was next, opening his brief set with the song “Grace’s Owl,” that he dedicated to all the 12/14 victims. While the lyrics kept returning to the vocalized theme of, “...who, who, who...,” the message of the song was clearly articulated as he sang, “Who will make sure Grace didn’t die in vain; Who will help make America change.”

Taking a few moments to chat with the audience, he related that an early November hip replacement gave him some down time to also write another song he titled “Choose Love,” only to learn upon arriving for the local show Wednesday evening that, “choose love is a phrase adopted in Newtown.”

“I don’t know how that happened,” he said of the coincidence. Among the song’s wonderful lyrics was the phrase “Stillness is love’s loud voice — choose love.”

Asking to take the already low light within the Congregational Church down further, French cellist Luca de Valdivia created an improvisational chant as he bowed a droning tone on his instrument. Showcasing a smooth tenor voice, Mr de Valdivia dropped his bow for a second number where he gently strummed the strings while singing along.

The final performance of the program downsized its instrumentation even further as the husband and wife duo of Annabelle Fox and Douglas Waterbury-Tieman took the stage accompanied only by Mr Waterbury-Tieman’s violin.

Both are actors, singers, tap dancers, and musicians who came to Newtown from New York where they are both involved in musical theatre.

They ran through a selection of material that ranged from “You Are My Sunshine,” which got many audience members singing along right off the bat, to standards like “What a Wonderful World,” and “Blue Moon of Kentucky.” On the latter tune, Mr Waterbury-Tieman adopted a scratchy Bluegrass underpinning that complimented the perfectly moderated harmonies between the two artists.

“Think of Me” showcased plucky arpeggios as Ms Fox unleashed an almost operatic soprano that soared through the room. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” closed their set before the entire audience was enlisted to bring the program to a close joining many of the evening’s performers back on stage for a moving rendition of “Amazing Grace.”

The mother/daughter duo of Grace and Kari Haxhinasto, left, were accompanied by the group Louvar — Joe Manning, Matt Garcia, Gabriel Campanholi, and Dirceu Modesto — performing a selection of inspiring material for those gathered at the Newtown Congregational Church December 11 for ‘An Evening Of Music & Reflection,’ a pre-12/14 program produced by local resident Joy Hoffman. The program also featured Grammy-winning singer/songwriter Les Julian who performed two brand new compositions, including a tribute to the victims titled “Grace,” and co-written by Tom Hazuka, who was also in attendance. —Bee Photos, Voket
Local host and organizer Joy Hoffman, far left, produced “An Evening Of Hope & Reflection.”
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