#liftyourvoice concert seeks performers to share joy, connection

  • Neuqua Valley High School orchestra teacher Greg Schwaegler is organizing an outdoor concert for 7 p.m. Saturday that will not be canceled. Called #liftyourvoice, the concert invites all musical performers of all ages on all instruments to participate by stepping outside or playing out of an open window a melody called "Panem Nostrum."

      Neuqua Valley High School orchestra teacher Greg Schwaegler is organizing an outdoor concert for 7 p.m. Saturday that will not be canceled. Called #liftyourvoice, the concert invites all musical performers of all ages on all instruments to participate by stepping outside or playing out of an open window a melody called "Panem Nostrum." Brian Hill | Staff Photographer

 
 
Updated 5/13/2020 3:34 PM

There's a concert at 7 p.m. Saturday. It won't get canceled and it won't be postponed.

Sound miraculous in the age of COVID-19? It's designed to be.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

#liftyourvoice is a simultaneous and socially distant performance inviting all musicians of all ages on all instruments to take part from home, no matter their location or ability level. It's planned by Neuqua Valley High School orchestra teacher Greg Schwaegler of Naperville to replace a finale performance for his students and to overcome the grief of everything that has been stopped, shelved or scrapped because of the pandemic.

The concert, Schwaegler said, also is designed to help musicians answer the question, "What is my role in response to COVID-19?"

Here's his answer:

"My calling is to be a musician," Schwaegler said. "I'm going to find a way to make music and I'm going to help create an ensemble of people to make music with. The message is, 'We the musicians also have ways to contribute to the community that are valuable, so it's time for us to share our gifts.'"

Participants in the #liftyourvoice concert will play music available for download at https://liftyourvoice2020.weebly.com/music.html. There are song sheets for 19 instruments, including the childhood classics ukulele and recorder.

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Composer Reena Esmail wrote the melody, called "Panem Nostrum" as the theme of a piece she created for a performance in November by the Neuqua Valley High School Symphonic Strings. Students six months ago accompanied former Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra concertmaster and violinist Vijay Gupta in a performance called "Hear Your Voice."

With the same melody as the song featured last fall, the #liftyourvoice distant concert emphasizes the power of expression in pandemic times. The melody is Esmail's reflection on the Latin phrase "panem nostrum quotidianum da nobis hodie," which means "give us this day our daily bread."

"During composition, I envisioned a warm, safe, connected space where we can each ask for what we need -- to ask for our daily bread, for the things that sustain us, literally and metaphorically," Esmail wrote on the #liftyourvoice website. "As you play this melody, think about what makes you feel most alive, what keeps you going. And send gratitude for your daily bread into the world with your music."

Word of the performance has spread through the musician community to the point that Schwaegler said at least six suburban school districts, six youth music organizations including the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra, three colleges including the University of Illinois, two community bands and plenty of individuals across the country have said they're in.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Schwaegler, who lives in the same district where he teaches and has four children, said he plans to get his two oldest involved on piano or oboe as he plays his main instrument, violin. He hopes his family and other District 204 participants, especially, will hear and feel a "musical communion" as their sounds echo with others nearby joining in.

"I get so excited about the notion that there could be all these musical connections that are going to happen in the neighborhoods," he said.

If it rains, the show goes on, Schwaegler said. He advises people to perform out of a window or an open garage door, under a patio umbrella or even out of a car window.

"One of the things that people are latching onto," Schwaegler said, "is the idea that finally this is a public, live, musical performance that cannot be canceled."

Schwaegler called the Panem Nostrum melody "warm and inviting," "peaceful" and "very meditational," especially when repeated. Sheet music for #liftyourvoice asks performers to play the melody three times, then to repeat as desired.

"We're just looking to bring joy and peace," Schwaegler said, "to as many people out there as we can."

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