Sylvia McNair: Precious Resource

Tonight, I attended a spectacular concert in Atlanta at Peachtree Presbyterian Church presented by Sylvia McNair. My words cannot fully express my feelings about the event, but this is the best I can do.

Songs for sacred spaces was the program but it was so much more. Opening with a stunning acappella presentation for "How can I keep from singing" by Robert Lowry , the program led seamlessly into an adapted version of Copland's "The promise of living" set to a text and title Zion's Walls. The singing and presentation was elegant, refined and silvery but it maintained an honesty that would make Copland and Robert Shaw proud. These pieces led into a tribute to Robert Shaw including both At the River and O God our help in ages past. Ms. McNair's voice was beautiful but it was the transparency with which she shared her soul that inspired me. Her connection to Robert Shaw is well known and her love shown through her music. As a listener, I smiled, and I am sure that Maestro Shaw did as well.

This woman has clearly had a tough time in the past year from what I know of her, yet she stood on the stage tonight and took risks beyond what I have ever seen a "classical artist" take. She opened her second half with Sondheim's "Everybody says Don't" and it was here that she was truly in her element. Her eyes shone like precious jewels as she engaged the audience playfully, her every word a masterpiece of diction and presentation. Her adoration of the music was evident in every note, nuance, and intention.

The program spoke of a "special surprise from Sylvia" in the middle of the second half. She revealed a violin, which she placed to her chin, after removing the 4 inch ear ring. She walked to a microphone and presented a "crossover" performance of Charlie Daniels "The devil went down to Georgia".. I and those around me were stunned at the risk she took, but it was worth it. The connection established with the audience, her warmth and love of music making shown through. I'd still rather hear Charlie do it, but hey, I can't play the violin, and I was seriously impressed with her ability.

Ms McNair has been an icon as an American singer for over 25 years. Tonight I finally understand the extent of her greatness. She is more than a singer, more than a violinist, more than a classical musician. She is a precious resource for our world, and her soul is special. As she sang, she showed us the real Sylvia McNair honestly and with truth. As a young artist, I was inspired by her performances when I was in the Westminster Symphonic Choir and on stage with her and tonight I was inspired by a true American Diva who sold out for the sake of the music and for the audience. She was a MASTER musician and I was proud to just be near her. I have seen many great singers who are immensely talented, but I would pay to listen to this fine lady anytime.

Kudos to the staff and members of Peachtree Presbyterian Church for showcasing a great artist and providing a channel for her to share her talents intimately and make a difference in my day.

Lord, I thank you for glory of music, for the power that it brings to my very innermost soul. I thank you for Sylvia McNair and I pray for her future in our world. I pray for her health and for her skill in sharing her tremendous gifts with her world and with her students.


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