Carmelite Concert Reflections:  Soul Sisters

By Jenine Baines

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, as a publicist for a number of classical musical organizations for more years than I care to count, it’s that a sold out performance is a rarity.

Actually, let me rephrase that: a sold out performance is a rarity for smaller, lesser known ensembles lacking a star conductor at the helm – say, a super nova like Gustavo Dudamel, the new and incredibly young Music Director at the Los Angeles Philharmonic. To say that the 28-year-old Maestro has taken the classical music world by storm is to put it much too mildly. As the LA Times wrote last August, “Los Angeles has a mind-blowing crush on its new conductor—and rightly so.” Later, in that same article, the writer confessed that hearing one of Dudamel’s performances “made my heart feel too big for my chest.”

Those of us who attended The Carmelite Sisters in Concert: Unplugged on Sunday, February 28 and Monday, March 1 know exactly what the writer meant. Our hearts felt too big for our chests, too, as we heard the Sisters perform an array of spiritual works from Gregorian Chants to Christian Praise Music.

Joining the Sisters both nights were hosts Victoria Strong Mohutsky and Ralph Mohutsky (I will never forget their rendition of “Prayer”), plus Grammy nominated singer James Drollinger and singer and guitarist John Gilb on Sunday.   “It was uplifting, inspirational,” enthused audience member Barbara Hanna. “Everyone left with a tear in their eye and a smile on their face.” Added Margie Luxford, who attended Monday’s performance because she felt it would be an uplifting way to experience Lent, “The Sisters’ voices are heavenly. It was a wonderful evening, full of joy and yet augmented by introspection.”   Which was exactly, of course, what the Sisters intended as they began work on their first public performance.

But here’s what amazed me. Dudamel’s concerts sell out because of the excitement and buzz from his celebrity. The Carmelite Sisters in Concert: Unplugged, however, sold out on Sunday evening – with so many requests left pending that a second performance on Monday evening was hastily scheduled – despite the fact that it was planned not to generate excitement and buzz for the sake of excitement and buzz. As Mother Regina Marie, O.C.D., Superior General, told the audience, the concert was the Sisters’ way of offering the rest of us a glimpse into the prayer life of the Carmelites.   “We wanted the evening to be a time of uplifting and restoring spirits, a time of hope,” said Mother Regina. “The Carmelite Sisters love music and our lives are filled with music – chanting the psalms three times a day, composing, singing together and playing instruments. Music can reach deeply into both heart and soul.”   “The unifying theme for the concert is light,” Sister Timothy Marie, co-producer of the concert with Sister Mary Scholastica, explained to me. “Times are dark right now, very tough for so many people. They get discouraged. We want people to know that we’re here for them. We are here to help.”   The Sisters opened the door and the rest of us couldn’t enter fast enough. In fact, if there was one comment I heard repeatedly both at Intermission and afterwards it was this: “They have to do this again.”   I, myself, want them to do this again because I love music, I love the Sisters, and I loved, loved, loved seeing the impact their performance had on the audience. People laughed, people smiled, people clapped in time to the music. More than once, people were moved to tears…And I am certain that I wasn’t the only one in the house who swallowed a lump in my throat at the end of the concert as I watched the Sisters receive a long and boisterous and loving standing ovation.   “We have so much ‘drudgery’ during Lent with fasting, no flowers at church, purple vestments,” Margie Luxford confided later to me. “I loved how the concert was spiritual but also upbeat in its focus. I especially loved the drummer, Sister Cora, who rocked and rolled with each beat.”   Even the media were entranced. The Pasadena Star News covered the event and, as I write this, is working on a feature story. Fox 11 visited a rehearsal and its segment on the Sisters, available for viewing on MyFoxLA.com, was the most watched video for two days running.   “Collectively, this group of very talented women unplugged their spirituality and lowered the veil on a terrific performance that at the same time was inspiring and entertaining,” raved Mike Napoli of performing arts LIVE, who gave the concert front page coverage and attended the performance. “May God Bless and protect them!”

Yes, to paraphrase the LA Times, some of us in LA have “a mind blowing crush”…but it’s not on a conductor but a cluster of Carmelites who, by their loving example, teach us how to better and more rewardingly conduct our spiritual lives.   So, Sisters, beware. You’ve brought a publicist into your midst. A publicist who loves you and loves what you do and yearns with every fiber in her being to share the joy you’ve brought to her to others….Isn’t it time to start thinking about a holiday concert? A tour?   (Do I dare admit I’m even plotting, in my heart of hearts, to pitch a reality T.V. show. The Sisters? A reverent, respectful one, Mother, I promise!)   When I confessed this to Sister Timothy, she cautioned me, “Don’t go too fast. We want all your input. Keep thinking. But you know us by now, we pray and discern and meditate a lot before we decide these things.”   Yes, I know the Sisters. But I can’t quite shake the feeling that we’ll hear them sing again. Praise the Lord…and stay tuned!