The 2021 Jonathan Beech Memorial Concert goes virtual05/03/2021 07:32PM ● By Steven Hoffman
With close to 1300 views to date, the 14th annual Jonathan Beech Memorial Concert is reaching far more people than in pre-Covid years. The Jonathan Beech Memorial Concert, an annual concert of choral music performed by a chorus of area singers from local church and community choirs, raises funds to support organizations that help childhood cancer patients and their families. Normally, the concert is presented on a Saturday in early spring at Kennett High School with a large chorus accompanied by orchestra. Although last year’s 13th annual concert had to be cancelled due to the pandemic, it nevertheless raised $7,000 from many generous donors --- a significant amount, but far less than previous concerts generated.
With Covid-19 restrictions still in place, large-scale live choral concerts are still not possible this spring, but with encouragement from community members and chorus members to try to keep the 14-year tradition going, the Jonathan Beech Memorial Concert music director Donna Beech decided to do a “virtual choir” concert. This was not a completely new concept to Dr. Beech, who, as music director at Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church, and with large amounts of technical assistance from daughter Dee Beech, the music director at Hamorton United Methodist Church, had put together quite a few “virtual choir” anthems as well as several ecumenical services that had streamed via YouTube in the past year.
Since premiering on YouTube in March, the 14th annual concert has raised funds totaling almost $14,000 to date, making this the best fund-raising year yet. The concert may be viewed by going to the organization’s website at JonathanBeechMemorialConcert.org and clicking on the link on the home page.
Contributions will continue to be collected through the end of May. At that point, the donations will be split equally among three organizations: Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia Division of Neuro-Oncology; Make-A-Wish of Philadelphia, Delaware, and Susquehanna Valley; and Camp Sunshine in Casco, Maine. Donations may be mailed to Jonathan Beech Memorial Concert, 474 Greenwood Road, Kennett Square, PA 19348.
In pre-Covid years, the annual live concert, in addition to featuring a large choral work accompanied by orchestra, also included performances by other local student and community choirs, as well as guest speakers who shared information about the beneficiary organization. This year’s virtual concert, although more limited in scope, includes all of those elements. There are five virtual choir anthems involving a total of over sixty singers, including the Kennett High School Select Choir which sings “Earth Song.” All three beneficiary organizations submitted short videos highlighting their work, and the Loose family, who, like the Beech family, has been touched by all three organizations, talks about some of their related experiences.
Putting together a virtual concert was quite an intensive effort that pushed all of the musicians to go beyond their comfort zones. Normally, choir members are used to singing and working as a group, but with a virtual choir, every person had to record (audio and video) individually, without hearing the other people singing. Briefly, the process began with music director Beech recording a piano accompaniment practice track for each anthem. These accompaniments were sent to two college voice majors who individually recorded the choral parts while listening with earphones to each practice track, and then the tracks were distributed to the choir for creating their own videos. The instrumental parts --- piano, organ, and string instruments, were recorded separately. All of these hundreds of videos were reviewed by Donna Beech, and then passed on to her daughter Dee, who had the arduous task of coordinating all of the videos so that they would line up properly to form what sounds like a choir singing together. Dee Beech also put together the overall concert video. Because of the size of the project, and the desired deadline, the Beeches also recruited Philadelphia music teacher and Kennett High School graduate Aaron Bench to put together two of the virtual choir anthems.
The Beech family wishes to thank the many musicians who worked so hard to put this concert together. It has reached more people than normally could come to the annual live concert, and the funds raised are beyond expectations. Thanks to the businesses that sponsor the event, the Jonathan Beech Memorial Concert is able to donate all funds to the beneficiary organizations.
The Jonathan Beech Memorial Concert was formed because of a promise to Jonathan Beech, who died of a brain tumor at the age of 15 in 2007, as a way to extend thanks to the community for all of the support received during Jonathan’s brain tumor journey. The hope for next year is to have a live concert in March, and to perform Paul Winter’s Missa Gaia, a work that was originally planned for the 2020 concert that had to be cancelled. Interested singers, listeners, and donors can check the website in January 2022 for updates.