The 2018 edition of the Michigan City Chamber Music Festival (MCCMF), held at First Presbyterian Church, Michigan City, is one I will never forget. Our theme, “Our American Music Experience,” manifested itself in musicians, staff, audience, and our general community in ways I could have never imagined.
I am Nic Orbovich, a professional concert violinist who calls Michigan City home for me and my family. I wear many professional musical hats, locally and abroad. This is a communique to our wonderful community about music, love, family, gratitude, community, and healing.
The festival “events” always start with our “operations team meeting,” always scheduled 3 days before opening night. This year, that was August 1, a Wednesday evening. About 2 hours before that meeting I received a phone call from our brilliant violist/composer, Rudolf Haken. “Rudy” is also one of my dearest friends, an incomparable humanitarian, and well known to our Community church congregations through his many musical presentations at area church services, always at no charge. This was not a pleasant phone call.
Rudy proceeded to tell me that his 23-year-old daughter, Sofia, had taken her life that morning. I had never been so devastated as I was at that moment. My family had known beautiful Sofia as a young girl, and we adored her. We hadn’t seen her in years, as she lived in Wisconsin now. She had been battling severe depression and other mental health issues. I was not aware of any of these issues.
My head was spinning at that moment, struggling to stay coherent and strong for my dear friend, who was displaying very admirable courage In discussing this event with me. In this conversation, he expressed that he felt he should play the concerts, as scheduled, “I feel it’s where I belong.” He said.
Serendipitously, he had some time off in the early part of the festival that allowed him to visit with family, take care of the unpleasant business of such events, and still open our festival with the E Major Partita for Solo Violin by J.S. Bach. He dedicated his performance to the memory of his daughter, as he announced her passing just a few days earlier. The audience was stunned, as one could imagine, and met Rudolf’s performance with an instant standing ovation, with shouts of encouragement and love.
Th festival week continued as scheduled, with brilliant performances from all our musicians, as always, but with a darkness in the background that could have toppled a different set of souls. There were several emotional breakdowns during the week, including one from me; a tearful display at the end of an intense trio rehearsal that seemed to erupt from some natural force outside myself for my dear friend. Through it all, Rudy remained extraordinarily strong, a source of inspiration for us all.
Through the 17 years of the festival, I have seen our musicians go through debilitating periods of personal challenge, but they NEVER let these challenges defeat their artistic merit and skill; almost as if to say, “this is MINE, and you won’t take it from me! I will survive through my own artistic expression!” Indeed, in such instances, their artistry seems to GROW. Never, however, had we seen anything like Rudolf’s resolve.
On the Thursday night of the week, Rudy and I visited the Gospel Choir of the New Hope Missionary Baptist Church, as they were rehearsing several arrangements of Rudy’s of modern hip pop gospel songs to be performed on our festival’s final concert on Sunday. The gospel choir was phenomenal.
They performed with such joy and expertise, it brought tears of joy to my eyes. Rudolf and I kept exchanging glances of awe and amazement, as they wowed us through their extraordinary display of choral power! On top of that, they were as warm to us as our own families, and their humility and gratitude shown bright like gold. Midway through this experience, Rudolf looked at me and said, “this is just what I needed.”
Indeed, it would be a healing salve for us all. The blessings and strength that came from this collaboration with our brothers and sisters from “across the tracks” couldn’t possibly be measured!
First, we became aware of this excellent gospel choir through my wife, and our dear friend, Sunny Gardner Orbovich. She had heard them sing during the funeral for Dewitt Martin; the beloved, long time church matriarch of Missionary Baptist, and a good friend of Sunny’s and mine, last year. When Rudolf told us he had some arrangements, but a good gospel choir would be needed, and did we happen to know of any in our area, Sunny provided, “Oh, I think I know of a GREAT Gospel Choir!”
Sunny even got reacquainted with a former member of her children’s choirs, Alicia, whom she hadn’t seen in years. She soloed on one of the songs, and has a most beautiful voice! At 16, she was shy and apprehensive at first, but blossomed quickly under the artistic umbrella of love and discipline this collaboration provided!
I asked them why haven’t we heard you perform with other groups, or other venues. They replied, with all true humility, “No one asked us. You’re the first to have ever asked!” Their wonderful Director, Brandon Lampkin, said that this collaboration had lifted the spirits of his choir immeasurably, and that, indeed, it was DeWitt’s desire to have their fine choir known throughout the area for their quality.
So, on our final concert, Sunday, August 12, we started with a moment of silence dedicated to the memory of beautiful Sofia Haken. I became aware later that day that August 12 coincidentally was Dewitt Martin’s birthday, and this performance had even more significance to the wonderful choristers.
We musicians had tears again, but this time tears of joy, healing, and acceptance as we performed with this choir of heroes. We, of the MCCMF thank, once again, the entire FPC community for letting us present these world-class performances in our excellent Sanctuary. We also thank New Hope Missionary Baptist Church for accepting this invitation to collaborate, and for collaborating so expertly. I, lastly, but certainly not least, thank all of you. You, who support us financially, by attending our excellent concerts, by volunteering to increase our limited resources, and by being a part of our family of healing.
Our collaboration with them is not over. I will have their musical forces join ours and present music for us, and vice versa, in the future. May we march forward together with our new brothers and sisters, making joyful noises with a thousand tongues to sing!!
– Nic Orbovich, Director of Music Ministries, FPC. Artistic Director/Violinist/Co-Founder, MCCMF, INC.