Unique concert in memory of a friend

October 31, 2009
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In honor of Matt Robinson, a young Lynn native who had passed away this month, two brothers, Michael and Steven “Sven” Olbash, also from Lynn, performed a concert of sacred art songs and Gregorian chant last Tuesday night, October 20th, at 7:30 pm at the St. Pius V Church on Maple Street in Lynn. The event was a fitting remembrance for a young man who himself loved music and performing.

“I had planned to do a performance in the Boston area… After Matt’s passing I decided I’d like to make my performance a benefit for a suitable memorial.” Steven explained. “Michael and I thought it would be fitting, back in our old stomping grounds, to perform at the place where Matt and I had come every Sunday,” Steven, in a pause between songs, explained.

In Joanne Lynn, M.D. and Joan Harrold, M.D.’s Handbook For Mortals, they explain a singular significance in music during times of grief. “Perhaps listening to music gives us a special time just to think about the people we love. Often our minds are racing too fast, or not moving forward at all, in our initial moments of shock. Having music around gives us a rhythm, a structure around which we can reflect, and grieve. Like a metronome, or deep breathing, it gives a rhythm to our fragmented thoughts.” Perhaps performing music also has healing benefits as well.

This concert, featuring Steven’s soaring baritone over Michael’s steady, interpretative accompaniment, was a collection of meditative pieces for both organ and voice selected from 20th century artists such as Jean Langlais, Francis Poulenc and local composer David Pinkham who was “also a professor of mine at New England Conservatory,” remarked Steven, as well as chant pieces from liturgical tradition. As the music faded in and out of the buttresses of the St. Pius’ interior, attendants sat, reflected, enjoyed, and remembered.

Despite living on opposite coasts of the United States, this performance marks the third in the series of concerts the brothers have performed together in the past year. “My brother and I, although both professional musicians, have not performed together publicly in over 15 years,” Michael admits.

But when Michael was scheduled to travel to San Francisco for a conference they seized the opportunity to create a recital that played to both of their strengths. “He is more of an organist, I a singer… His expertise is in chant and early music, mine is in modern and experimental music.” However, in their collaboration, Michael and Steven have had an opportunity to refine and include both of their interests. Beginning at Notre Dame des Victoires in San Francisco where Steven is the director of music, they also performed at St. Edward Church in Newark, California, where Reverend Jeffrey Keyes, a colleague of Michael’s in the chant community, is pastor.

This third concert, in an effort to create an appropriate memorial program for their fellow LEHS Drama Club alum, was slightly modified from the original two recitals. “We modified it by adding the ‘Requiem aeternam’ and ‘In paradisum’ chants, and the organ works on which they were based, at the beginning and end of the concert. This gave…the added dimension of the Catholic tradition of praying for the souls of those who have died.” Helping to fill the rectory with layers of sound, the chants were performed en balcon by members of St. Mary’s Church in Beverly where Michael directs the chant schola.

Michael, the eldest of the two, currently is the Minister of Music at the United Church in Medfield, Massachusetts. He is a graduate of Harvard University with an advanced degree in Music and Liturgy from St Joseph’s College in Indiana. He is serving his second term as the President of the Southeastern New England Chapter of the Choristers Guild and is the director and founding member of the Stepping Stone Chant Project, whose music can be found at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/steppingstonechant.

Steven has sung with Volti, a collection of chamber singers known for their “adventurous programming”, as well as the Other Minds Festival and at Old First Concerts. He has performed with [sfboylesque], a vaudeville cabaret group out of San Francisco as well as the Climate Theatre’s Clown Cabaret as his alter ego, circus acrobat, Nick L Underfoot. Steven is a Teaching Artist with the San Francisco Opera’s ARIA program, a frequent guest presenter for the SF Choral Society as well as the director of the professional vocal quartet Les Choristes.

Both brothers credit St. Pius V, as well as the Lynn Public Schools, with beginning their study of music and performance. But it was the tragic circumstances that followed the untimely death of their friend that brought them back to their roots.

“On the face of great tragedy, we often feel helpless… I felt like this was my way of being able to do something,” Steven remarked, “and I hoped my actions would inspire generosity in others. I also hoped people would take a moment to appreciate those loved ones who are still with us…”

Attendants’ donations were forwarded to All Care Hospice, 16 City Hall Square, Lynn, MA 01901. For more information please call 781-598-7066, or 800-351-8402, visit http://www.allcare.org or email hospiceinfo@allcare.org.

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