Each year for the past decade, St. Thomas More Church in Bethel Park has hosted an Advent Christmas Concert for a special cause.
“We wanted to do this concert because it means a lot to a lot of people,” organizer Kathy English said about the 2020 version. “We knew that we couldn’t do it in person, so with everyone Zooming, we were sure we could do it virtually.”
And so the show will go on, with the musical performance recorded at the church beforehand and edited to produce a streaming spectacular starting Dec. 6.
As always, the event supports Hekima Place, a home for girls in Kenya and a longtime service project for St. Thomas More parishioners. The concert will be streamed through the home’s website, https://www.hekimaplace.org/, where viewers will have the opportunity to donate to the cause.
The program will include a greeting from Kate Fletcher, the former South Hills resident who founded Hekima Place in 2005 as a safe environment for orphaned and vulnerable girls.
“She’s excited, and the nice thing is that the girls are going to be able to hear the concert,” English said. “They never have before.”
Listeners from all over will hear seven performers in solo, duo and trio formats, presenting a series of Christmas favorites. Lending their talents are Juan Jaramillo, violin; John Marcinizyn, guitar; Glenn Lewis, Dianne Falvo and Nick Capone, keyboards; and flutist Julie McGough and her vocalist daughter Clara, a Bethel Park High School student.
Jaramillo, a native of Venezuela, studied music at two Pennsylvania universities, earning his bachelor’s degree and artist diploma from Duquesne, and his master’s from Penn State. He has performed previously on behalf of Hekima Place, continuing his long-standing efforts to help give back through the gift of music.
He has also worked with Project Costa Rica, by which he and colleagues visit the Central American nation to teach and to provide free instruments, strings, books and other music-related items.
“We were like the Traveling Troubadours, bringing lessons, bringing concerts,” Jaramillo recalled. “We went to very remote areas of Costa Rica, where some people had never seen a live professional concert.”
The musicians planned another trip for 2020, the sixth year in a row, before it was precluded by COVID-19.
“But we still have very close connections with people down there, and in fact, because we couldn’t be there physically, we still did some master classes and lessons over Zoom,” Jaramillo said.
Usually, he has a busy schedule performing with any number of ensembles around the country, from upstate New York to Florida to Iowa to Oregon.
Around the tri-state region, he has played concerts with the Pittsburgh Opera and Wheeling (W.Va.) Symphony as those groups have eased back into presenting live music.
And he’s looking forward to the concert of Hekima Place.
“This is an opportunity to still make music and to help this amazing group of people who are helping in Africa,” he said. “I’m just glad that there is still some musical activity happening, and hopefully starting to happen more.”
Marcinizyn, who lives in Squirrel Hill and teaches at nearby Carnegie Mellon University, is an Advent Christmas Concert veteran, often performing with fellow guitarist Jim Ferla.
“The thing I like about this is that they are prerecording it and then uploading it, which will give it a high-quality picture and audio,” he said about the 2020 edition.
His contributions will be a duo with Julie McGough on “What Child Is This” and a solo rendition of “Coventry Carol,” both songs with roots in 16th-century England. Other selections by various combinations of performers include holiday favorites such as “We Three Kings,” “Deck the Halls,” “Go, Tell It On the Mountain,” Mel Torme’s “The Christmas Song” and, of course, “Silent Night.”