Coming out of the Tyndall Strings Room in Schaffter Hall on Tuesday night of this week, I turned to someone and said, “you know, on a CD everyone sounds great; I mean, in a studio they can make anyone sound like a star, but to hear a voice like that live is amazing.” I was referring to Chantal Kreviazuk. In a school like ours, where we breathe live music in all kinds of forms, and where students in Chapel can learn a new hymn by sight-reading in about ten minutes, you do learn to develop some critical skills when it comes to music. I do like Chantal Kreviazuk’s songs, and she has achieved the external verification of several Juno Awards, so she doesn’t need my good housekeeping seal of approval to boost her confidence or her livelihood.
The concert, which was a fundraiser for War Child, an organization that provides programmes for children who are the victims of war, just blew us away. It began with half an hour from Raine Maida, who is the lead singer for Our Lady Peace, another Juno award winner. He is the husband of Chantal Kreviazuk, and together these two have made War Child their cause. They had flown from Los Angeles that morning, after a late night the night before, expressly for the purpose of putting on this special concert at the school. After Raine played his acoustic pieces (Our Lady Peace is about as far from an acoustic ensemble as you could imagine, so this was an exceptional experience also), we heard from Dr. Samantha Nutt, a medical doctor who is the founder of War Child. She spoke compellingly, humorously, and passionately about the work her organization does in several countries, including Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Sierra Leone. After a break, a quartet of our students started the second set with a song written by Vaughn Stokes, one of this year’s grads (two other students, Emily Reid and Jake McCloskey, had opened the concert with an original song they wrote in honour of the fundraising event the school holds for War Child, called “Keep the Beat.” The second set was devoted to Chantal Kreviazuk herself. She started at about 9:25.
Around 10 p.m., as she began a song, I whispered to my wife, Joan, that this might be the last song. A couple of songs later, she stopped for about 15 minutes to talk about a visit she had made with War Child to see their work in Ethiopia, where families of children, their parents now dead of AIDS, are helped to stay together, and learn to read and write and fend for themselves, through the work of War Child. It was clear the experience was still close to her emotional surface as she described visiting the hospitals (no facilities, no medicine, no drugs, just “hotels for the sick” as she described them), and visiting families of children in their huts, where the oldest child had assumed the role of parent. She digressed to say how impressed she was by the work our students have done, seizing this cause with their own authenticity and compassion, where it seems that “conscience is on the curriculum.” The phrase stuck with more people than just me.
She finished this account at about 10:30. She kept singing, playing in public for the first time a number of songs from her new CD, due out in the fall. Her voice was magical in the Strings Room, as you might imagine if you have ever been in it. She finally finished at five minutes to eleven, basically a 90 minute set with a 15-minute talk. We left feeling those vibrations you feel when the earth has just shifted a little.