The holiday season is typically a time to gather with family and friends to celebrate the year. But if 2020 has taught us anything, reasons to rejoice are scarce, and despite some hints of optimism on the horizon, we definitely shouldn't be gathering together.
Andrew Sievers, artistic director of cultural nonprofit Muse Phoenix, thought there had to be some way to unite people, so the musician and singer found a way for a worldwide audience to join together in song. A veteran of interfaith concerts, he decided to take the lyrics of "Silent Night" and rewrite them so everyone can enjoy the spirituality and comfort the song provides.
His version of the song, dubbed “Worldwide Silent Night,” will premiere virtually on Monday, December 21, at 1 p.m. on Muse Phoenix's YouTube Channel. It will feature 500 musicians, with performers from all regions of the world, spotlighting native instruments to each culture. There will also be seven conductors featured throughout the performance, including two Fulbright scholars and a U.S. diplomat.
“I’m the kind of guy who has insane ideas all the time, but I’m also insane enough to get other people involved and not let go of it until it’s done," says Sievers.
One of the people who Sievers contacted to arrange this revamped version of “Silent Night” is Captain Squeegee’s Danny Torgersen. Like many touring musicians this year, the sought-after trumpet player found his schedule suddenly open up because of the pandemic. Torgersen, who is known for his wild and charismatic playing and live performance style, was grateful for the opportunity to dive into classical writing.
“If anyone listens to Captain Squeegee, they know I’m into some classical music concepts,” he says. “I even wrote sheet music for the band. That’s how we were able to perform a lot of that music. Andrew knows I’m going to put a modern twist on this orchestral vision. It was so fun for me. And it’s not even a regular orchestra. It’s a world orchestra with sitar, gong, and zither parts. There’s even a choir and hand bell part. I probably never spent as much time writing anything as I did writing this piece.”
And this isn't the first time the duo have worked together to put on a virtual concert. The two toured China last year to perform a piece with hand bells. In April, over 100 musicians from all over the world performed Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus" to celebrate Easter, and in May, strangers gathered over the internet to perform an original work titled "Catharsis."
These performances are also on Muse Phoenix's YouTube. The organization was founded last year by Sievers and Carolyn Snyder, who serves as the organization's executive director. Per the Muse Phoenix website, it is a nonprofit collective " dedicated to advocating, cultivating, and inspiring communal artistic endeavors, both locally and abroad."
"It’s my love letter to the Phoenix arts scene," says Sievers. "There is a lot of awesome talent here that is just as good as you would find in L.A. or New York, but it’s just spread out. I’m trying to build something that celebrates what we have here.”
One of the ways Muse Phoenix accomplishes its mission is by honoring "tradition while embracing the contemporary, enabling eclectic and innovative projects along the way," and "Worldwide Silent Night" meets that criteria. The lyrics that Sievers has penned don't focus on the birth of a Savior, but the words are still celestial in nature. The presentation will be accompanied by images of stars taken by photographer Marc Leatham and edited together by Dan Schwartz of Accent Concerts.
According to Sievers, despite the project’s purpose to include everyone, it has had a few detractors. Sievers had arranged for several children's choirs to join the presentation, but some dropped out because parents stated that their kids were disappointed that he took Jesus out of the hymn. Both Sievers and Torgersen don't understand the opposition.
"The imagery is there," explains Sievers. "It talks about a star that guides. How is that not about Jesus?”
Despite the controversy, Sievers believes that the warm, calming feeling of “Silent Night” is intact, no matter the lyrics.
“The message we’re trying to succinctly share is that whomever you are, you are worthy of love,” he says. “You matter. And no matter where you are on the planet, we’re dreaming underneath the same night sky.”
“Worldwide Silent Night” will be broadcast virtually on Monday, December 21, at 1 p.m. For more information, visit the Muse Phoenix website. If you are interested in participating, organizers are still in need of vocalists who can sing in Spanish and Hindi. For more information, please send an email to email@example.com.
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