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Connecting Our Communities

St. James’ concert is music to the ears of refugees

Elmira church hosts vocalist Jennifer Enns Modolo on Sunday, with proceeds to Canadian Lutheran World Relief


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Whitney Neilson
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Whitney Neilson is a photo journalist for The Observer.

In keeping with their desire to bring music to Elmira’s downtown, the St. James Lutheran Church this Sunday hosts mezzo-soprano vocalist Jennifer Enns Modolo for an afternoon of classical music in support of a good cause.

This concert is intended to benefit the refugees who are wintering in camps, as proceeds from the concert and additional donations collected will be given to Canadian Lutheran World Relief. The non-profit supports refugee camps in the Middle East and in South Sudan, as well as emergency relief efforts and community development around the world.

Enns Modolo’s brother Jeff is the music director at the church and is part of the reason she was inspired to come back to do a recital. This is her first solo recital in several years.

“He actually asked me earlier, probably before last year even if I was interested. And I said ‘yes, of course I’m interested,’ but sometimes bringing things to fruition takes a little bit longer than I would hope,” Enns Modolo said.

As a mother of three and a music teacher at Redeemer University, Rockway Mennonite Collegiate, as well as in her home, finding the right time was tricky. Finally, this month her schedule aligned with the church’s.

She’s been heavily involved in music all her life. She and her older brothers took violin lessons growing up and performed as a string trio at their church. Her mom is also a pianist and her dad grew up singing with his family. But she didn’t always plan to turn it into a career.

“I certainly came to it in a very natural way, although all through my childhood and even into high school I had intentions of becoming a doctor. When I was in Grade 12 I had the fortune to play the lead role in our school’s production of The Sound of Music and at that point I decided I needed to be performing instead,” she said.

Aside from teaching, she’s often a guest vocalist with area churches and is typically busy performing during the Christmas and Easter seasons.

She performed at the church before a few years ago with her brother Jeff and another violinist. This time around she’ll be singing a classical repertoire in French and English, with a couple of “little gems” thrown in. She’ll be accompanied by Lorin Shalanko.

“I’ve decided that it was time to do French music and a lot of that inspiration come from songs that I was teaching to my students. There’s so much repertoire to choose from when trying to decide what to put in a recital and for me anyway, it can get very overwhelming because there are so many beautiful things that I like to sing. Sometimes it’s hard to figure out how to put it together, what sort of theme should I have,” she said.

Without any intention of doing so, the two main themes of the songs she’s chosen are about love or sleep, she notes with a laugh.

Enns Modolo’s talent has taken her to Europe to perform on more than one occasion.

“One of the times I went as a guest soloist with a choir from the region. Howard Dyck used to be the conductor of the Grand Philharmonic Choir and when he was there, not that it was connected to that choir in particular, but he started up another ensemble called the Consort Caritatis, which was a group of choir members who came together and then went on tour to various parts of the world depending on the year,” she said.

They toured in France and Spain.

Another year she was in England for a workshop and when another musician fell ill who was supposed to be a solo, she was able to take his spot, where she earned a positive review.

CLWR program director Patricia Maruschak explains the program she’s responsible for focuses on projects to assist refugees and internally displaced persons worldwide, and also issues of food security. They work with the Lutheran World Federation to help them develop and program activities.

“Right now we’re working on unaccompanied minors, so those are children under the age of 18 or 21 who have come into Uganda as refugees, but for whatever reason weren’t accompanied by a parent, and we help them with some job training, we help them with wash and hygiene activities, so we’ve provided them with the resources to construct latrines for their dwellings,” Maruschak said.

The job training is in several different areas where there’s a demand for those types of skills, like beekeeping, tailoring, and agricultural activities, providing them with the training to help make them more self-sufficient.

“In Iraq we’re doing something similar, but there we’re not dealing with refugees, but with Iraqis who have been displaced within their own country because of the war. We work with LWF Iraq in northern Iraq to help in communities that have suddenly received an influx of internally displaced persons,” Maruschak said.

They’re helping them improve the quality of their water supply system. Once the immediate needs of food, water and shelter are met, then they move on to helping them earn livelihoods, especially for unaccompanied minors who don’t have families to teach them those skills.

“We very much appreciate the help and support of the church in Elmira and we look forward to engaging with them,” Maruschak said.

A representative of CLWR will be at the concert the answer questions and accept donations.

Enns Modolo encourages Elmira residents and beyond to come enjoy some familiar and unfamiliar music on Jan. 29, while supporting a good cause.

“An afternoon of music is a great way to get off the couch from your usual napping routine. And there’s no football on the 29th because it’s between games before the Super Bowl happens, so they wouldn’t be missing any major sporting event, which is good,” she jokes.

St. James Lutheran Church in Elmira presents Winter Concert for Refugees Still in Camps on  Jan. 29 at 2 p.m. Tickets are $20 for adults, $18 for seniors and $15 for children. They’re available at The Window Box in Elmira, the church office in the mornings and www.eventbrite.ca. Tax receipts will be issued for charitable donations of $10 or more beyond the ticket price.

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