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To Squirrel Hill, with love

String quintet to honor victims of synagogue shooting

Amid the season of merriment and an annual holiday concert held to celebrate warmth and goodwill, Thursday’s event at the high school will begin with a unique tribute also meant to signify hope and unity.

A quintet of senior string players — Drew Johnston, Benny La, Onora Lancaster, and Owen and Audrey Pyper — will honor the members of the Jewish community of Squirrel Hill who were killed on Oct. 27 during a shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. They will perform “My Candles in the Window,” a traditional Hanukkah melody arranged by Brendan McBrien.

What: Holiday concert, middle and high school musicians

When: 7 to 9:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 13

Where: EGR High School Performing Arts Center

Cost: free, but attendees are invited to bring canned and boxed food to be donated to Arbor Circle

“We always try to make our music more than just a high school concert, and to carry the theme of harmony throughout the year,” said Drew.

The piece also will be dedicated to any in the audience who find the holiday season a time of loneliness, sadness or grief.

“I think it’s so pertinent that people — especially high school students — know that it’s OK to address this,” said Onora.

For the holiday concert, the music department strives to make sure the program represents different cultures and religious celebrations, such as Hanukkah.

As she was driving to school a week or so after the shooting in Pittsburgh, orchestra Director Mary Hillyard heard a segment with survivors and members of the Squirrel Hill community.

“It was so very moving that I felt I could not let this opportunity go,” Hillyard said. “I knew I had this particular piece in our library, and I knew our students felt strongly about the power of music to reach out globally. So I presented the idea, and (students) wanted to do it.”

Also on Thursday, the seventh- and eighth-grade orchestras will join the high school orchestra for the first time. Each orchestra will first perform their own songs of the season, and then combine for the Trans Siberian Orchestra’s version of “Carol of the Bells” called “Christmas Eve/Sarajevo 12/24.”


Concert honors passionate but humble journalist and musician

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Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema
Morgan Jarema is a reporter and copy editor, covering Northview. She is a Grand Rapids native and a product of Grand Rapids Public Schools, including Brookside and West Leonard elementaries, City Middle/High School and Ottawa Hills. She found her tribe in journalism in 1997 and has never wanted to do anything but write. For 15 years she was a freelance journalist for The Grand Rapids Press, covering local schools and government, religion, business, home & garden and lifestyles. She and her husband, John, think even those without kiddos should be invested in their local schools and made to feel a part of them. Read Morgan's full bio


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