Sometimes mere words are not enough, and silence too painful. Sometimes music is required to balm a savaged soul.
Last August, 9-year-old Cecilia Kathryn Powell was killed in a car crash near Atlanta. At the funeral, musicians of the Cecilia Ensemble, a professional choir whose founding members included Cecilia’s parents Jennifer and Tim Powell, decided to pay tribute to the lost child, whose nickname was Lily Kate.
On Friday, Piccolo Spoleto Festival patrons will get a chance to hear the result. The Cecilia Ensemble, a professional chamber choir based in Augusta, Ga., will perform a free concert in honor of Lily Kate at 5 p.m. at St. Philip’s Church, 142 Church St.
The program, which addresses life, loss and rebirth, includes J.S. Bach’s funeral motet “Komm, Jesu, Komm,” Herbert Howell’s “Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing,” Ralph Vaughan Williams’ setting of Christina Rossetti’s poem “Rest,” John Tavener’s “Funeral Ikos” and Daniel Elder’s “The Bless’d Above.”
That last work is hot off the press. It was commissioned by the choir as part of its effort to honor Lily Kate.
Elder is a Georgia native and graduate of the Westminster Choir College and the University of Georgia.
“I learned of Daniel’s music several years ago and have always admired his ability to write for the voice in a beautiful and thoughtful manner,” Cecilia Ensemble director Joel Scraper wrote in an email. “We asked Daniel to write a work based on the text of John Dryden’s ode ‘A Song for St. Cecilia’s Day, 1687.’ St. Cecilia is a common bond between Lily Kate and us, as her christened name is Cecilia Kathryn and, of course, the namesake of The Cecilia Ensemble (St. Cecilia being the patron saint of music).”
On August 17, 2017, a couple weeks before Lily Kate’s 10th birthday, a commercial pickup on Highway 316 in Lawrenceville, Ga., plowed into the rear of Jennifer Powell’s stationary Dodge Caravan, fatally injuring the child.
The driver was vilified on social media, which upset the Powells. He had rushed to the crushed car to help. He was devastated by what had happened.
So the Powells forgave him.
“No one does that kind of thing deliberately,” Tim Powell said. “We wanted people to understand we were going to approach him with some humanity.”
The ripples caused by Lily Kate’s death extended into the Lowcountry. Jennifer Powell grew up in Mount Pleasant, attended Charleston County School of the Arts and then the University of South Carolina, where she studied music and met her husband.
In Atlanta, the Powells continue to cope with their loss. Their two boys — 6-year-old Danny and 4-year-old Patrick — are only now coming to terms with the finality of it, Jennifer Powell said.
But they couldn’t be more pleased about the musical tribute, and expect to be in the audience at St. Philip’s Church on Friday.
Tim Powell said The Cecilia Ensemble consists of “like-minded professional musicians.”
“Everyone is a scholar in the ensemble,” he said.
Scraper, who also is director of choral activities at the University of South Carolina Aiken, said the spirit of Lily Kate informs the entire enterprise.
“Lily Kate was a happy child who cared about others,” he wrote in his email. “She loved music and dance. At her funeral last August, one thing that struck me was the theme of rainbows. To honor this, our concert begins and ends with music that is harmonically colorful, beginning on a single note and expanding to convey colors and harmonies that explore the range of emotions.”
That would explain the program title: “From Harmony to Harmony,” which is an excerpt of Dryden’s poem “and a representation how colors and harmonies affect us and help us to appreciate, if not deepen, our understanding of the world around us and the prospect of a life to come,” Scraper said.
Money raised after the accident paid for the commissioned work, the first of two to be written, Tim Powell said.
Donations received at the concert will go to a scholarship fund at Davidson Fine Arts Magnet School in Augusta for children in need who want to study music or dance, two pursuits Lily Kate loved.