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Center Stage: From a chorale performance to a film premiere, entertainment abounds

April 18, 2018
By MARSHA WAGNER , Island Reporter, Captiva Current, Sanibel-Captiva Islander

Two outstanding entertainments delighted the area's audiences within recent weeks. One was a thrilling performance by our Symphonic Chorale of Southwest Florida, under the direction or Trent R. Brown, and the other was the premiere of a documentary, "The Gavin-Walker Legacy - A Century of Sanibel's Black History," produced by Eugene Gavin and Yvonne Hill.

The chorale devised a program that celebrated the 100th birthday of Leonard Bernstein as its final concert of the season. The program devised by artistic director Trent Brown commemorated Bernstein's 100 years as an iconic American composer, conductor and teacher. According to Brown's program notes, Bernstein's "television broadcasts brought classical music into family rooms across the country and cultivated a generation of arts enthusiasts. After the death of Kennedy, he said, 'This is our reply to violence to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before.'"

The magnificent chorale concert was performed at the New Hope Presbyterian Church in Fort Myers and was totally free, with a suggested donation. The quality of the concert was the highest and the best, which if you had attended in a concert hall would have cost you a whole bunch of dollars.

But let us get to the concert as envisioned by Brown. Brown started with the classical composers that inspired Bernstein in the first half of the program. "The Heavens are Telling," by Franz Joseph Haydn, a soaring rendition that filled the church. It was followed by "Lacrymosa," by Mozart. This Requiem piece always shakes my very soul and the chorale gave it a performance that brought tears to my eyes. "Esaudi orationem meam," by Igor Stravinsky, is a particularly difficult piece of music that resonated to the rafters of the church with beauty as well as meaning. Bravo! George Gershwin also inspired Bernstein with a choral version of "Our Love Is Here to Stay."

Moving now to the music of Bernstein, we heard "A Simple Song" from Bernstein's "Mass" then onto the score of "Chichester Psalms," which ended Act I. After intermission, we heard more of Bernstein's Broadway musical scores like "I Hate Music" from the show of the same name, the music of "Candide" and ending with probably the most timeless musical score of all times, "West Side Story."

It was such an outstanding musical evening that I felt it needed to be praised. The chorale under the guidance of Brown has blossomed into one of the finest groups that I've heard since leaving New York City and the performances of the New York Oratorio Society. So, aside from the kudos to this great chorale, I want to alert you to when you can hear their chorale-produced concerts for free next season:

- Nov. 2: "Some Strings Attached" at 7 p.m. at Faith Presbyterian Church in Cape Coral

- Nov. 4: "Some Strings Attached" at 4 p.m. at Sanibel Community Church

- April 12: "My Spirit Sang All Day" at 7 p.m. Faith United Methodist Church in Fort Myers

- April 13: "My Spirit Sang All Day" at 7 p.m. First Presbyterian Church in Naples

Of course, if you are subscribers to the Southwest Symphony, its Pops Series will feature the chorale in "Holiday Pops" on Dec. 6-8 at Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall in Fort Myers. Another collaboration with the orchestra will be "Verdi Requiem" on March 2 at 7:30 p.m. at the Barbara Mann.

It is never too late to pencil in the dates on your calendar to hear and see the outstanding chorale in action and song whenever and wherever they perform, since they are our very own men and women singing their hearts out for our listening pleasure.

And now onto another awesome performance the premiere of an inspired documentary titled "The Gavin-Walker Legacy - A Century of Sanibel's Black History." Seven-time Emmy Award winner David E. Carter directed the over one-hour documentary, which premiered at The Community House.

The Gavin-Walker Legacy traces the 100-year history of two black families, the Gavins and the Walkers, Sanibel's first two pioneer black families. When the Gavins and Walkers arrived on Sanibel, they started out as sharecroppers who continued farming the fertile land on Sanibel until the hurricane of 1926 wiped out all the rich farmland on Sanibel, when the Gulf of Mexico's tidal surge wiped out and salted all the rich soil on the island. The loss of income and devastation of the land forced the two families to seek other employment and learn new skills, which they did.

In 1933, Elnora Walker married Edmund Gavin and their legacy began. The union produced 12 amazing men and women, which is the focus of the inspirational film.

The Gavin Walker Legacy tells of how Elnora and Edmund raised their offspring. Theirs was a totally united ideal of living lives devoted to the Christian ethic and work ethic: love of God, love of family and love of fellow humans, plus doing your best and giving your all, in school, work and every day living. Respect and compassion for self, family and others, including animals and nature. The upbringing the Gavin/Walker children got is a plus perfect example of true family values. These are American values that are alive and well in the marvelous men and women that live among us now; thus, the Gavin/Walker legacy lives on.

Eugene Gavin, the family historian, introduced the documentary to the packed house on Sanibel, followed by his brother, Oscar, leading the audience in a prayer of thanks. Afterward, Carter described the making of the film - which took 10 years to complete - and thanked their sponsors.

If I have whetted your appetite to see this affecting film, you can borrow it from the Sanibel Public Library, or you can purchase it for $10 at Gene's Bookshop or MacIntosh books. I'm hoping that somehow this moving documentary receives some national attention. It is just what our divided nation needs to heal and be inspired. The Gavin/Walker legacy shows how family values creates strong men and women who embody the true ethics of what "Makes America Great." Thank you, Gavin/Walker family, for a wonderful and meaningful evening.



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