Haiti Benefit Concert

There was no U2, Bono, or Sir Paul, no Clooney or other big stars answering phone lines, just our own local musicians from Western Canada pitching in to raise funds for earthquake-stricken Haiti. While the Olympic torch had just passed by our city and moved on to cheering crowds in Banff, the flame of compassion burned bright here at the amazing concert last night in Calgary’s Centre Street Church.

Partnered with the Christian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse, the benefit concert was organized on short notice.  With just a few days to prepare, some of Canada’s top Christian musicians and recording artists gathered, together with the Centre Street Church orchestra and choir, to deliver a moving, high-calibred performance.  All funds raised will be sent to Haiti for urgently needed relief work.

I’ve long wanted to hear Juno Award winner, singer songwriter Steve Bell in person, and I had the chance last night.  But I was much more gratified to discover other singers that I would never have known if not for an occasion like this.  For I’m a sporadic listener of Christian music, have not been a fan of the genre, I admit.  But last night I had an altered view and gained a new appreciation for Christian artists and their music.

Steve Bell and Carolyn Arends opened the concert.  Bell had that amazing voice and musicianship.  From his guitar, I could hear chords that seemed to be created new and yet so natural in their progression. From Surrey, B.C., award-winning singer and songwriter Carolyn Arends wrote on her blog about this concert. And there I discovered some inspiring posts.  I was captured by her voice, her lyrics, piano and guitar playing, and now from her blog, her writing.

The spoken words written for the occasion were delivered rap-style, backed by the rhythms of a djembe drum, riveting and forceful. Other musicians came up one after another, among them were Jason Zerbin, Dan Nel, recording artists Raylene Scarrott, John Bauer, the humorous ‘hip hop artist for the night’, Corey Doak, and the group ‘Junkyard Poets’, just love that name.  Brad McGillvrey, with the choir harmonizing, gave a touching rendition of Lenard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’.

They came up one after the other, quietly, low-key and unpretentious.  That in itself was moving, for this was not a show for the musicians themselves.  There was no limelight; their performance had only one purpose, to draw our attention to the devastated victims in Haiti.

It wasn’t just music, of course.  A group from Compassion Canada shared their harrowing experience as they arrived Haiti one hour before the earthquake hit.  Their lives were spared as they were tied up with some VIP protocols and were delayed reaching their hotel.  Hotel Montana was crumbled by the quake an hour later.  Spared for what?  Brent Trask of the group shared his insight from the ordeal using Psalm 116.  Spared to fulfill one’s vows to the Lifegiver, to make one’s life count, to serve, to praise.

The finale is a moving sight with all performers coming on stage to wrap up with Carolyn Arends’ ‘Seize The Day’.

We were excited to hear that the effort of the night was well rewarded as we raised $115,000.  With the Canadian government matching the amount, a total of $230,000 will be sent to relieve the urgently waiting victims in devastated Haiti.  No big Hollywood stars, no international phenom’s, just plain local musicians with a heart, and a community of united spirit.  Steve Bell added an apt reminder. Don’t say ‘pray for Haiti’, he urged us, but ‘pray with Haiti’.  We are all in it together, our shared humanity, one communal spirit.  Something worthwhile to ponder as we drove back to our warm and secure homes.

Update Jan. 24, 2010:  Since the concert, more donations have been pouring in.  As of today, the amount is at $134,000. With the government’s matching funds, $268,000… so far.


** All photos taken by Arti, seated in the eighth row from the stage, using a pocket-sized digital camera.  The actual scene was much more impressive than these blurry photos show. **