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Monday, December 22, 2014

An Evening with The Salvatones at St. Peter's Cathedral

Christmas season is both exhilarating and exhausting. Just when you thought all your Christmas cards have been sent, your mail is full of more people's holiday wishes and these folk were not on your list this year, were they? Better make out those "Happy Holidays" cards and wish them a Happy New Year.

New York City is glistening on the surface but sizzling with last-minute season's jitters underneath. Today was just a swirl of mailing out what I thought, at least, was the last of cards and packages. I very much looked forward to getting together with my friends Kathy, Nick and Richard Skipper at The Salvatones concert at St. Peter's historic church down near the World Trade Center site.

Sometimes I feel like I don't get low enough in Manhattan. Seriously, all the good, bohemian, arty stuff is down there below Canal. Including tonight's choral concert in a Roman Catholic Church. Quite respectable and, yet, with a distinctly very-downtown air about it all.

I knew St Peter's was a Catholic church because, before you can enter, you have to do the penance of climbing the long, steep cement stairs. Mia culpa! And thank God for handrails.

I arrived, after cocktails, with my friend Nick Lion. (We doubted they'd be serving drinks at the church -- and we were correct in our presumption). We joined my longtime friend, Kathy, and her mother (who survived WWII in Germany to come to the States) in a pew near the front of the church. Kathy and her mom are such a cute team, they deserve their own reality tv series.

The Salvatones performance was absolutely cathartic for us all. Nick and Kathy lost their mom and dad, respectively, in 2012 and I lost my mother in 2011. The opening songs inspired us to pull out the Kleenexes. A mix of grief and joy, it was the spiritual beauty that connected with us and perhaps our memories of Christmas with loved ones through the years.

I recalled my childhood days of going to church with my Mom, and of the music (along with incense and stained glass windows) that filled my formative life with a kind of erotic/spiritual passion. Bible? Who knew what was in the Bible? I had my Catholic missal (Cliff Notes for Catholics) to explain and interpret it all.

Now, with our groovy, new Pope whose positive presence for change in the world I'm very much enjoying, I felt no guilt in my devotion to the hymns, carols and string orchestra moments (with and without chorus). Oh, those divine violins!

Opening with Handel's "Messiah," and closing with the composer's  "Joy to the World" (before an encore of "We Wish You a Merry Christmas"), this dignified and respectful 90-minute performance offered many highlights, like "Carol of the Bells," a joyous "We Three Kings" and a swing arrangement of "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen."

Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future filled the cathedral, it seemed, and the audience appeared, overall, to be genuinely moved on a deep, primal level. There is something unusually resplendent about a concert, unplugged and without microphones, where the acoustics are the music and the voices bouncing off cathedral walls, stirring the emotions.

So, blessed are the Salvatones (Sal, loved your solo), the New York Virtuosi (strings), organist/ arranger Stephen Fraser and musical director Daniel Brondel. And thanks and happy holidays to promoter Richard Skipper (who greeted us after the concert) for recommending this beautiful tour de force. Richard invited everyone to dinner at Odeon, Nick invited me to join him and his partner for dinner, but an early morning obligation directed me to hailing a taxi and be homeward bound via the nearby Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel.

As I left St. Peter's (with a $10 Salvatones album on cd in pocket), tripping merrily down the cement steps, it really felt like Christmas had arrived. God bless us, everyone!

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