On World AIDS Day, December 1, 2012, Sing for Hope presented AIDS Quilt Songbook @ TWENTY at The Great Hall of Cooper Union. A celebratory concert commemorating the 20th anniversary of the classical music world’s first organized response to the AIDS crisis, Sing for Hope’s AIDS Quilt Songbook @ TWENTY featured many of today’s leading classical vocalists, including Amy Burton, Adrienne Danrich, Heather Johnson, Suzanne Mentzer, Sidney Outlaw, Randall Scarlata, Michael Slattery, Monica Yunus, Camille Zamora, and two of the baritones of the AIDS Quilt Songbook premiere: Kurt Ollmann, and William Sharp. At the keyboard were composers Fred Hersch (“a pianist, composer and conceptualist of rare imaginative power” – The New York Times) and John Musto (“the leading vocal composer of his generation” – Fanfare Magazine) and the artistic director of the event, collaborative pianist Thomas Bagwell (Mannes College faculty, Metropolitan Opera assistant conductor) as well as a special performance by pianist Marcus Ostermiller. The performance was directed by Lorca Peress, assisted by Heidi Lauren Duke.
Produced in partnership with original Songbook producer Philip Caggiano, the Sing for Hope AIDS Quilt Songbook @ TWENTY concert represented a new incarnation of the 1992 landmark arts activist initiative. In addition to songs by renowned contemporary composers, the concert featured poetry and prose spoken by actors Kyle Minshew and Alan Mingo, Jr. The performance reflected the changing face of the disease over the two decades since the work’s premiere, and benefitted people living with HIV/AIDS as it honored the memory of the many who have passed.
The AIDS Quilt Songbook was conceived in 1991 by HIV-positive baritone William Parker. “For singers, we are being pretty unvocal about AIDS,” said the baritone, who assembled an evening-length collection of art songs about AIDS by many of the most prominent and up-and-coming composers of the day. The work was premiered in New York in 1992 with four of the leading baritones of the day, and many major and rising composers of the day, some making their first major appearance. Several of the songs have gone on to become classics of twentieth-century recital repertoire, including “Walt Whitman in 1989” by Chris DeBlasio (who died of complications related to AIDS in 1993) and “Fury” by Donald Wheelock.
Inspired by the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt, which featured quilt panels commemorating individuals who had died of AIDS in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Songbook was intended to be an ever-expanding collection of songs that could be performed around the country. Each performance added new songs and subtracted others, but the constant of all performances was that they benefited HIV/AIDS service organizations. The original 1992 New York premiere collection was recorded by Harmonia Mundi and published by Boosey & Hawkes, and the 1993 Minnesota version was recorded by Innova Recordings. Multiple versions of the collection have been performed across the country since its first appearance.
In keeping with Sing for Hope’s mission of volunteerism and the spirit of the original AIDS Quilt Songbook, all of the artists involved in AIDS Quilt Songbook @ TWENTY donated their time and talent to the project, allowing all proceeds generated to benefit people living with the disease.
In the words of Amy Doty, sister of AIDS Quilt Songbook originator Baritone William Parker (1943-1993):
“My brother, Will Parker, looked death in the face … There he found anger, fear, and pain, … But in our conversations I heard more than that. Will also found hope – not in the form of an immediate cure nor a reprieve from death for himself – but in the opportunity to create something good from this devastation of his life. He felt deeply the loss of his many friends, and fellow artists, and was concerned about the role for singers in this struggle with AIDS. He spoke often of a need to teach about disease prevention so this virus would not destroy others. When Will phoned to tell me about the AIDS Quilt Songbook, his words described a patchwork collection of songs which would grow until the disease was conquered while benefiting people living with AIDS today. But there was more. His voice resonated with a sense of satisfaction, a completion, an integration of so much of what his life had been about: singing, touching his audience, teaching, relishing the joy of life, and meeting its challenges with intelligence, thoughtfulness and courage.”
Over the last decade, Sing for Hope has raised more than $3,000,000 for men and women living with HIV/AIDS through our Community Arts benefit concerts. Through our Healing Arts outreach programs, Sing for Hope provides bedside and atrium concerts for people living with HIV/AIDS, uplifting spirits and bringing respite to patients, family members, and caregivers.
To learn more about Sing for Hope’s arts outreach programming for people in healthcare facilities, including Omega House AIDS Hospice and other HIV/AIDS service organizations, please click here.
To learn more about Sing for Hope’s HIV/AIDS fundraising for Bering Omega AIDS Services, please click here.