By Eric Dundon
For nearly everyone, traditions look different in 2020. Despite the changes we all face, traditions endure.
For the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, that includes an annual holiday visit to St. Agnes Home in Kirkwood. Begun more than 20 years ago by SLSO Bass Trombonist Gerry Pagano, SLSO musicians visit the senior living community yearly, providing a free concert to the eager audience of residents, staff, and Sisters.
With the COVID-19 pandemic making an in-person visit out of the question this year, the SLSO came up with a solution to share the comfort and joy of holiday music.
Cally Banham, SLSO oboist and English horn player, donated dozens of her holiday album, Cor Christmas, to St. Agnes on December 14. The CDs will be delivered to St. Agnes residents in their rooms, as well as played through the facility’s intercom system. Residents will still hear music by SLSO musicians without having to gather in a large group.
“I know from personal experience with my parents how hard it is for residents in care facilities to be isolated from proper visits with their family during the pandemic,” Banham said. “The SLSO has had such a special relationship with St. Agnes over many years. I thought making a gift of my CDs could keep that partnership active this holiday season, and hopefully bring some comfort to the hard-working staff and to those residents who might be lonely!”
Cor Christmas feature Banham, as well as Cortango—a Latin/jazz/classical fusion group composed of orchestra members and St. Louis musician Adam Maness—and the Trombones of the St. Louis Symphony.
Music selections include versions of “Do You Hear What I Hear,” “Carol of the Bells,” and “Comfort Ye” from Handel’s Messiah.
Joanne Giljum, St. Agnes Director of Business and Community Outreach, was thrilled to accept the gift of music from Banham. She said the residents look forward to the SLSO’s visit every year and will appreciate hearing holiday music in the safety of their own rooms.
"The fact that the symphony chooses to come to St. Agnes Home to perform each year means the world to the residents and staff," Giljum said. "It emphasizes just how special our Home and residents are, and we are thrilled when we can provide them the opportunity to hear this special one-of-a-kind treat that the SLSO musicians provide."
“While nothing can compare with the human exchange and sense of community that defines live performance, we hope that Cally’s gift serves as a familiar bridge between all the live holiday performances of the past at St. Agnes, and the many more to come,” said Maureen Byrne, SLSO Associate Vice President of Education and Community Programs, who helped organize the delivery of the albums to St. Agnes.
The gift was a sign of hope for the coming months and a reversal from the disappointment St. Agnes experienced in the fall when an SLSO On the Go concert at the facility had to be canceled.
SLSO musicians presented more than 50 SLSO On the Go concert at locations throughout the community in September and October, for individuals at their homes and for limited audiences in outdoor spaces.
Through initiatives like SLSO On the Go, the SLSO has prioritized frontline healthcare workers and seniors in group living centers who have been especially hard hit and isolated during this pandemic. SLSO performances are still available each Saturday night at 8:00pm on 90.7 KWMU St. Louis Public Radio and the first Sunday of each month at 5:00pm on The Nine Network. There are still many ways to keep up with the SLSO, from online events to at-home resources and social media performances. Find out more at slso.org.
Eric Dundon is the Public Relations Manager of the SLSO.