On October 4, 2002, Trinity Episcopal Cathedral -- the wow-look-at-that church on Roosevelt Street in downtown Phoenix -- celebrated a remodeling job with a dedication concert. Five days later, the circa 1920 structure and its impressive 3,000 pipe organ burned to the ground. (Rumor has it that the fire started when somebody lit a match, didn't wave it out completely, and threw the aflame stick into the trash.)
Luckily, the adjoining offices of the Phoenix Bach Choir, as the group was called back then, weren't really affected. Not so for the church members and its staff. For the following two years, services were held outside in the adjoining courtyard, even in the summertime.
In November 2004, the church -- and here's that cliché that we don't mind uttering in this context -- arose from the ashes and back to its original blend of Spanish-colonial architecture interspersed with an Arizona territorial sensibility. Burned artifacts from the fire were turned into sculptures and placed outside in the garden to the east of Trinity.
The story of the church fire inspired the Chorale's Sheppard to create a stunning art piece for the "Phoenix as Wonderland: Art from New Times' Best of Phoenix 2009" exhibit. Sheppard's digital interior shot of Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, enhanced with her professional digital-painting techniques, references the 2002 fire.
Says Sheppard, "I was exploring the option of using Trinity as the subject for the 'Wonderland' exhibit because it's an icon of Phoenix, and it's the home of the Phoenix Chorale, but learning about the fire just solidified it for me. I read the story of the phoenix bird and knew there was a lot to be explored down that path -- the concept of rebirth and renewal."
For the exhibit, the singer's work accompanies a piece of music called "Phoenix" that the Grammy Award-winning classical group commissioned the Norwegian-born, New York City-based Ola Gjeilo to write for them. The composition was also an inherent factor in the artistic choices made by Sheppard, who works as a video game designer by day.
Adds Sheppard, "I also tried to keep Ola's piece in mind throughout this process. When we were first singing through the piece in rehearsal, someone had mentioned how cinematic it sounded -- it certainly evokes an image. To me, there is a great sense of warmth and glow in his composition. That did a lot to guide me in color and tonal choices."
Sheppard's work and Gjeilo's piece of music, which had its world premiere at Trinity in April 2009, can be heard at the "Wonderland" exhibit. The song is also available for exclusive download at www.phoenixchorale.org/recordings/mp3. There, you can find details of the 2007 and 2008 Grammy Award-winning choir and its upcoming season, which kicks-off in late October.
"Phoenix as Wonderland: Art from New Times' Best of Phoenix 2009" opens with a free First Friday reception on Friday, October 2, at [merz]project, 1437 North First Street. For more information, call 602-229-8478 or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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