Yo-Yo Ma, Emanuel Ax, Billy Keane to offer 'Songs of Comfort' Sunday at Hancock Shaker Village

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PITTSFIELD — Essential workers and first responders will be the guests of honor Sunday at a virtual concert streamed live from Hancock Shaker Village.

Five musicians — internationally renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma; Grammy Award-winning classical pianist Emanuel Ax; singer/songwriter and public school music teacher Anjimile; singer/songwriter and founding member of The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow Billy Keane; and Chantell McFarland, Berkshires singer/songwriter and pianist for the all-female band Kashmir Souls — and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, will be participating in "Live at the Village: Songs of Comfort."

The event will be performed live at 7 p.m. for a select audience of no more than 50 Berkshire essential workers — teachers, nurses, firefighters, farmers, police officers, grocery store workers, food bank volunteers and others. The performance will be broadcast live on WAMC-FM, and streamed live on WAMC online and on the WAMC app.

The event is the result of what Hancock Shaker Village Director Jennifer Trainer Thompson described in an email as "a confluence of ideas."

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"Back at the beginning of the summer, as Tanglewood and others canceled their seasons, it became painfully apparent that we’d hear little to no live music in these hills this summer, and I started thinking about how much I [and I knew others] missed it," Thompson said. "It’s such a profound part of the Berkshire summer fabric — music and other performing arts outdoors, under the night sky.

"It also became apparent that there are a lot of musicians in the Berkshires now, sheltered, writing songs about this period of our lives ... without audiences. And there are a lot of people in the Berkshires in need of music, comfort, and guidance. I also felt I wanted to hear a voice of inspiration, too. There’s deep anxiety. For me, that's Deval.

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"So my initial idea was to create an evening of 4-5 musicians who took turns on stage, playing songs of these times, and ask Deval to speak about resilience."

As the idea "percolated," Thompson said, she was contacted by Yo-Yo Ma on another matter, but as their conversations continued, the idea emerged of creating a small outdoor concert for an audience of no more than 50 to comply with state COVID-19 guidelines governing outdoor gatherings.

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"It felt right," Thompson said. "Both Deval and Yo-Yo are some of the most caring, empathetic people I’ve met."

She ran the idea by Keane — "Another good soul, who was completely game," she said. "Yo-Yo suggested Manny, another hugely talented, kindhearted generous soul, who also readily agreed. It bubbled from there."

Thompson and Yo-Yo Ma reached out to various local organizations to put together a representative audience of essential Berkshire workers and first responders and approached Albany, N.Y.-based WAMC-FM to broadcast the event over its various platforms.

"Our goal," Thompson said in a statement released by Hancock Shaker Village, "is to create a night of inspiring words and music, to thank the essential workers who sustain us. It’s an evening about resilience, and hope."


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