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An eerie blue light inundates Sanders Theatre, as Charlie A. Frogner ’06 and Jonathan P. Lee ’08 take to the stage, instruments and sheet music in hand. They are both veteran musicians with more than 25 years of experience between them, and it’s no surprise that they look calm and collected, as the emcee cues them to begin. As Froger’s fingers dance across the keyboard and the notes of Lee’s soprano saxophone fill the air, it is hard to believe that the duo had taken less than a day to compose the piece and less a week to rehearse it.
But that’s exactly what happens when some of Harvard’s most talented performers get together to respond to and assist in the wake of international tragedy.
“Changing the Tide,” a benefit concert dedicated to the victims of December’s tsunami, will bring together more than 90 student artists for a single performance tomorrow night. The multimedia event smoothly combines drama, dance and musical acts, showcasing several prominent performing groups like the Harvard Krokodiloes, Kuumba, Spoken Word Society, and the South Asian Dance Company among many others. All proceeds will be donated to and matched by Habitat for Humanity, who will then distribute funds to various non-governmental organizations throughout Southeast Asia.
According to co-producer and director of the Harvard College Tsunami Relief Effort, Rebecca E. Rubins ’05, the goal of the performance was financial, artistic, and emotional.
“Our specific aim was not just to entertain but to make people realize the enormity of the work to be done in affected regions, and to inspire them to help by showing how hard Harvard student groups have been working to stretch their creativity around the disaster,” says Rubins.
The concert marks the collected efforts of more than 100 individuals, all of whom pulled together an impressive program under very tight time constraints. Each piece seeks to memorialize the tragedy’s victims, while capturing the sense of empowerment and hope embodied by the relief efforts of its aftermath.
“The tone of the concert is meant to mimic the variety of feelings people have experienced in the days following the tragedy—sadness but also conviction, power and hope,” says co-producer Rashmi J. Singh ’05.
Recalling the complexity of people’s reactions to the event, the first part of the program acts as a somber memorial, while the second half is more uplifting, showcasing the initiative invoked by the tragedy and the power of students united for a single cause.
Toward this end, all of the performers will unite on stage for the final piece of the evening—a rendition of Sarah McLaughlin’s “World on Fire”.
“Our goal was not to leave the audience feeling dejected, but to leave people with a song and a group experience at Sanders that they can’t forget,” Rubins said.
Perhaps even more striking than the performers’ talents and personal reflections was the expediency with which the program was compiled.
“What is really unique about this show is its ad-hoc nature—how quickly it was thrown together,” Rubins said.
Just a few weeks ago, Rubins and Singh sent out a general call through house email lists to all of Harvard’s performing groups, asking for pieces specifically composed with the tsunami tragedy in mind. The selection and audition of the chosen performers took place in early February, giving the artists just two weeks for rehearsals.
“The time crunch is naturally an issue, but the performers who auditioned were so talented and well-prepared that everything came into place,” Rubins said.
Rubens, who has been involved in the production side of Harvard theater, said that the real inspiration for the benefit was the cause itself.
“I believe that the arts can be used for social good, and this project exemplifies that idea,” Rubins said.
Indeed, using art for public good in times of tragedy has lately proven a popular modus operandi for professional and student artists alike—today, students from the Berklee College of Music will present “Tsunami Relief: An Evening of Hope” which also aims to raise awareness and money for victims and their families.
For those involved in “Changing the Tide,” the experience promises to empower artists and viewers alike.
“It’s nice to know that doing something I love to do—playing the piano and composing music—will somehow help people in need,” says Frogner.
Lee agrees, saying that the artistic showcase was a remarkable opportunity for performers to express themselves and respond to the tragedy.
“Really, it’s good for everyone involved—for the performers, for the audience, and for victims who really need help and attention,” Lee says.
With such a massive undertaking, constituting the work of so many individuals, it’s no surprise that the show’s producers speak of the arduous task of filling Sanders with a tinge of desperation.
Says Dhaval Chadha ’08, one of the event’s Artistic Coordinators, “This is too good of a cause to play to an empty theater.”
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