Second ‘Concert for Peace’ brings Yo-Yo Ma back ‘home' to the South Side

Yo-Yo Ma
Chicago Tribune

By Lauren Warnecke

The pews of St. Sabina Church were overflowing Sunday for the second “Concert for Peace,” a joint effort between the Rev. Michael Pfleger and internationally renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma that brings healing to a struggling neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side.

Since 2010, Ma has served as the Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Negaunee Music Institute, a role which fosters education and outreach opportunities for young musicians, in order to make classical music accessible for Chicagoans all over the city. During that time, Ma learned about the work of Pfleger, a South Side pastor who has fought against the poverty, drugs and gun violence which have beleaguered the South and West sides for decades. Pfleger, an outspoken community leader and social activist who promotes peace and social equality, joined St. Sabina’s as lead pastor in 1981. He was personally affected by gun violence in the neighborhood when his foster son, Jarvis Franklin, was killed by stray gunfire in 1998.

With the help of CSO music director Riccardo Muti, Ma went to St. Sabina’s on a Sunday between services to talk to Pfleger and asked to play a song. “You’re Yo-Yo Ma; you can do a whole service!” said Pfleger, who stood in a close embrace with Ma for an interview, moments before the concert began.

“After we finished talking, (Ma) looked me in the eyes and said, ‘I want to help you.’ You don’t know what that meant to me,” said Pfleger. “A lot of people tell me they want to help, and do nothing. I always get my hopes up. And about two weeks later I got a phone call.”

The result of that phone call was last summer’s “Concert for Peace,” which drew audience members from all over the area to the South Side church, and raised $70,000 for Strong Futures, a program connecting at-risk youth and young adults with mentorship and job training. When asked why he came back for a second year, Ma remarked that St. Sabina’s feels like home. “The first time I came here, I was walking up the steps,” said Ma. “And someone who was walking out of the church … smiled, and said, ‘Welcome home.’ That’s why I’m back.”

This concert, produced by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra Association, is carefully curated by Ma and Pfleger to transcend race or religion. Performances by Ma, select members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and Civic Orchestra of Chicago; the Chicago Children’s Choir; the St. Sabina Band, and vocalists Sarah Ponder, Journey Allison and Takesha Kizart also defied genre, offering a diverse group of audience members and parishioners a mix of classical, gospel and blues.

New to this year’s “Concert for Peace” was the creation of original songs written by parents and loved ones of children who have died from gun violence. This songwriting initiative was created through a partnership between the orchestra association and Purpose over Pain, a nonprofit organization that advocates for gun control and provides support services for parents whose children have been killed. Five of these songs were featured at Sunday’s concert; a CD of 24 songs is scheduled for late July release.

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