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‘Forgive me if I startle’: Reconnecting to gratitude through song with NKY Community Chorus

By Jessalynne Scisco
NKyTribune reporter

Over the past few years, growing in gratitude has become a topic of massive interest. Authors like Brené Brown remind us of the importance of being thankful for even the smallest of blessings. We are rightfully encouraged to record all that is good in our daily lives in a journal to continually draw our attention back to what we have to be appreciative for and fight the human brain’s bias toward negativity. Yet despite our best efforts, practices of thanksgiving are all too easily abandoned. Gratefully, there is an alternative avenue to gratitude for even the busiest of people. 
Music: the instantaneous route to gratitude

Magically, music can rapidly reconnect us to a state of thanks with no effort on our part besides listening. No reading or writing is required. Music can convict those with the hardest of hearts that they are blessed, indeed, if only for the fact that they can hear it. It’s remarkable and undeserved. (But isn’t every gift?)

Stephanie Nash, artistic director and conductor of the Northern Kentucky Community Chorus, is keenly aware of the gentle power music has to make us healthier, emotionally wealthier people. She’s spent the past several weeks preparing the NKCC to sing a fall concert titled “Songs of Gratitude” on November 22nd and 24th. Nash programmed the concert with the specific goal of stirring thanksgiving in listener and performer alike, right before Thanksgiving.  

“Society is hungry for things that are good,” Nash says. “A lot of choral conductors are programming concerts that speak directly to the heart. This sounds elementary, but if we can come together and remind ourselves and our audience of what we are thankful for, it will make us better people. That’s the mindset I maintained as I assembled ‘Songs of Gratitude.’”

The delicious smorgasbord that is “Songs of Gratitude”

“Songs of Gratitude” is not a predictable program, and it is nowhere near easy to sing. The pieces are highly diverse in both genre and vocal range and vary from 1 to 9 minutes in length. It represents several languages, including English, Russian, isiXhosa (an official language of South Africa), Latin, and German. At first glance, music buffs might question the figurative harmony of the program, but upon listening they will find that each song relates and is unified by a golden undercurrent of warmth, community, and contentment.

“Abide,” a lush 140-bar piece composed by Dan Forrest that falls about midway through the program, is unique in that it reconnects listeners to gratitude via repentance. Incredibly, it does so without a hint of sternness or reprimanding. The extraordinarily simple, surprisingly emotional text, penned by Jake Adam York, pleads, 

“Forgive me…if I forget the day as the evening star pours out its whiskey over the gravel and asphalt I’ve walked for years alone
Forgive me…if I startle when you put your hand in mine.” 

York lyrically aims for the dead center of the heart. Supported by the sonic perfection of Forrest’s piano accompaniment, he hits his target. 

“Abide” is one of Nash’s favorite pieces from the program, along with the traditional South African praise song “Indodana” and a haunting rendition of “Our Father” by Patrick Hawes, a new-to-Nash British composer. Compositions by Brahms, Rachmaninoff, Copeland, Rutter, Mozart, Foster, and others round out the program. 

A musical jewel in our backyard

Nash considers the Northern Kentucky Community Chorus one of her most cherished blessings. In the six years that she’s been conducting the 39-year-old group, she’s developed the highest regard for its members, who range in age from mid-20s to mid-80s.  

“I am so proud of the singers,” Nash emphasizes. “They could do anything with their Tuesday nights, but they show up for this. And they take something real away from each practice. They are true lifelong learners and are more empathetic, fulfilled, intelligent, and curious for it. I only choose music that is worthy of them and of our listeners. I wanted each singer to have a personal journey through ‘Songs of Gratitude.’ I programmed it as much for them as for our listeners.” 

Stephanie Nash

NKCC members will journey even farther in the near future — Nash is tentatively planning a musical tour to Ireland to take place in 2021, as well as collaborations with other choirs and a grand gala celebrating the group’s 40th anniversary next year. 

“Thanksgiving always precedes the miracle”

In her wildly popular book “One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are,” Ann Voskamp wrote, “Eucharisteo — thanksgiving — always precedes the miracle.”

This weekend, let the Northern Kentucky Community Chorus roll out a red carpet your miracle can dance down. “Songs of Gratitude” will be performed at Lakeside Presbyterian Church in Lakeside Park on Friday, November 22at 8 p.m. and Sunday, November 24 at 3 p.m.. Tickets are $15 for adults and $10 for seniors and students. They can be purchased online or at the door. Please note that Sunday’s seats are filling up quickly. 

If you can read music, you are eligible to join the NKCC. Visit the Northern Kentucky Community Chorus website or email Stephanie Nash at info@nkychorus.org for more information. Don’t forget to hit “like” on the group’s Facebook page for updates.   

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