The Montpelier Flood Choir came into being when director Donia Prince became aware of the piece “Requiem” by Eliza Gilkyson (choral arrangement by Craig Hella Johnson) a couple of weeks before the flood, “and was totally taken by it.” Gilkyson wrote the piece as a song of grief following the 2004 Asian tsunami, and it was taken up again after Hurricane Katrina devastated the Gulf Coast region of the U.S. in 2004.
“It has been used following many water-related disasters since, including apparently Irene,” Prince said in an email to The Bridge. “After the flood I wondered how we might get this song out there as a place for people to put their feelings. I asked members of the Unitarian Church Choir, which I direct, if they wanted to get together to learn this (we normally take the summer off), and possibly ask people from other groups to join. The response was immediate and overwhelmingly positive.”
Prince said the UCC pianist Eliza Thomas joined, and she then put the word out to the choirs of Bethany Church, Christ Church, the Old Meeting House, the Onion River Chorus, and Montpelier Community Gospel Choir.
During two rehearsals at the gallery at the Vermont College of Fine Arts on July 20 and 27, the newly formed Montpelier Flood Choir learned “Requiem,” as well as “The Storm is Passing Over” (an old gospel song by Charles Tindlay, Prince explained), and “Hope Lingers On,” a contemporary song by Vermont musician Lissa Schneckenburger.
“Over 50 people came to our first rehearsal, and more to the second, as other singers heard about it. Singing such beautiful, cathartic, healing music with a large group of people after such a collective trauma was an incredible experience for those involved. Everyone felt we were doing something really special, although we didn’t know where it might go … We felt that even if we didn’t sing publicly, however, that it was a wonderful experience in itself,” Prince said.
The choir sang once at the Montpelier Farmers Market and once in front of city hall at noon when the canceled Brown Bag concerts might have taken place, Prince said, and then at the Statehouse before the Aug. 22 community forum, where more than 200 people were in attendance.
At this time, the choir doesn’t have any other performances planned. Although “If something comes up where it feels this would be meaningful (and if enough singers were available), we would reconvene. I am also thinking that this could be a model for other circumstances in the future when the presence of a true community choir would be useful and welcome,” said Prince.