When Erin Shields sang "Being Alive," a popular song from the Broadway show “Company,” the song had extra levels of meaning.
Shields and her husband David Shenton are touring musicians. They could not perform around the world during the coronavirus pandemic. So they broadcast virtual concerts from home to raise money for the Mosaic West Queens Church in New York City.
The concerts brought thousands of dollars to the church to help feed hungry people living in the neighborhood. They also gave the two musicians a chance to continue their artistic lives.
It began when they saw the long lines of people waiting for food outside the church near their home. Several of their friends had lost jobs after Broadway theaters closed. And they felt the need to help.
"When your entire industry shuts down, you think, 'well, how are we going to do this?'" Shields said. "Seeing the people in line ..., you go, 'I can be that person and that could be my family member.'"
In September, they volunteered at the church to give away boxes of food to families two times a week. As time passed, they felt the need to do more for others during the pandemic.
I don't have much to offer, but
"I thought, I'm not a doctor ... I don't really have much to offer. But then I thought, well, you know, we can perform," said Shields.
She is an opera singer from the American state of Illinois. Her husband Shenton is a British composer, pianist and violinist. And their artistic friends were willing to join for a good cause.
"We have all these connections to Broadway singers outside of their work on Broadway, so we wanted to capitalize on that," Shenton said.
During a recent virtual concert, smiling families, watching on their computers at home, clapped and sang along. Among the performers were Broadway musicians known for their work in shows such as "Hamilton" and "The Little Mermaid," as well as "Tootsie" and "Les Miserables."
Shields sang crowd favorites including "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" from "The Wizard of Oz." Shields remembered she had played the part of Dorothy and sang the same song in high school.
A grand piano named Wolfgang
Shenton played a grand piano that he named "Wolfgang Kathryn." It is named for his late mother and her favorite composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
For years, the two have performed at churches in New York. They have sung to older adults and Alzheimer's patients in Illinois. They have taught music to children in Arizona. And they have followed their interest in animal rights by caring for elephants and other wildlife in Zimbabwe.
Shields said volunteering became especially important last year when New York turned into the center of the pandemic. That was the time she could hear the sound of ambulances rushing patients to hospitals throughout the city.
"It's just something my mom always said: 'If you're feeling low, volunteer, give back to other people, because it will make you feel better,'" Shields said. "And it's so true."
I’m Jill Robbins.
Luis Andres Henao and Emily Leshner wrote this story for the Associated Press. Jill Robbins adapted it for Learning English. Hai Do was the editor.
Words in This Story
tour - v. to make a journey or trip through an area or place : to make a tour of (something)
virtual – adj. existing or occurring on computers or on the Internet
entire – adj. whole
opera – n. a kind of performance in which actors sing all or most of the words of a play with music performed by an orchestra
composer – n. a person who writes music
capitalize on (something) – expression. to use (something, such as an event or situation) in a way that helps you; to get an advantage from (something)
clap – v. to hit the palms of your hands together usually more than once
mom – n. (U.S., informal) a person’s mother
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