The Assisi Connection

For Immediate Release

Michigan Festival of Sacred Music

Contact: Elizabeth Start,

MFSM Executive Director


A visit to sacred music festival in Italy forges new connection for Michigan Festival of Sacred Music as it celebrates the cultural connections such music creates — The Assisi Connection, a free concert, Wednesday, Aug. 28, First Baptist Church, 315 W. Michigan, Kalamazoo.

Michigan Festival of Sacred Music Executive Director Elizabeth Start returns from artist’s exchange in Italy 

An evening of new music and more will bring home to Kalamazoo the experiences and music inspired by the visit of Michigan Festival of Sacred Music’s Executive Director Elizabeth Start to the sacred music festival of Assisi.

A Kalamazoo audience will have the chance to experience music she composed for her performance in Europe, a second piece inspired by her visit written since her return from Italy, and more music by Start and other composers. The free concert is set for 7:30 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 28, at First Baptist Church, 315 W. Michigan in downtown Kalamazoo.

The evening’s concert includes the world premiere of “Assisi Impressions,” the U.S. premiere of “Assisi Musings” for flute and cello, and pieces for solo cello by Start and others. Information also will be available on the Nov. 7-17 lineup for the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music, featuring special guest Paul Winter.

On the flute will be Mary Stolper, DePaul University school of music flute faculty member and the principal flutist of the Grant Park (Chicago) Symphony.

“This connection with Assisi is very apropos for this festival year,” Start says, “because as we prepare our various presentations of concerts representing diverse faiths, we are asking ‘What’s Sacred to You?’ We find that many people answer this question with references to the earth, the environment, and human dignity. These are all elements associated with the legacy of St. Francis, and with Assisi itself.”

Serendipity played a role in organizing the upcoming program, Start says. The solo pieces selected for the program fit into three categories—coming together in harmony, tributes to departed friends, and works referencing nature, meditation and angels.

The movements of Start’s “Assisi Musings”, based on St. Francis’ legacy, dealt with the same subjects. The first movement, “…to be in Harmony” is about changing one’s life to be in harmony with the world. The second movement,  “Overcoming Separations”, refers to overcoming a feeling of separation of self from others, and life from death. The final movement, “… in Everything” expresses God in everything.

The solo portion of the concert is framed by the two new Assisi-inspired flute and cello duos. Of the short solo pieces Start will perform, half are her own compositions, and the others are by living composers Levinson, Minsky, Corigliano, Tiutiunnik and Zelenaia.

Serendipity also played a part in making the Assisi connection. Assisi sacred music festival director Andrea Ceccomori was a guest flutist at Grand Valley State University a few years ago after recently starting a sacred music festival in Assisi. He had researched the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music, and wanted to talk to MFSM about the festival in Kalamazoo.

The idea for the exchange grew from that point. He is raising his own funds to come play a free concert at the festival in Kalamazoo. Start also raised her own funds to play a free concert in Assisi. Ceccomori’s concert will be scheduled sometime in the next two seasons.

Start’s visit to Italy was made possible, in part, with funding for professional development from the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs, which awarded funds to allow her to observe the Assisi festival from an administrator’s perspective. The Kalamazoo Artist Development Initiative funding from the Arts Council of Greater Kalamazoo was given to Start as an individual artist to allow her to write pieces for the occasion and play the concert in Italy.  Start supplemented with personal funds to make the trip possible and to extend it to visit other locations.

An informal travelogue in the church social hall will precede the concert at 6:30 p.m. Start will show pictures from the entire European trip, which included a few days traveling the canals in England on a narrow boat, a couple days in York and Florence, in addition to the time spent in Perugia and Assisi for the festival.

 About the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music

A mutual appreciation for the sacred music of one’s own culture and that of others’ can build bridges between cultures and within communities. It can help grow respect and understanding among people across a community. That recognition inspired the first Michigan Festival of Sacred Music in 2001. Together, retired Kalamazoo College Professor Dr. Wen Chao Chen, who passed away in 2012, and civic and religious leaders, established the Michigan Festival of Sacred Music.

The Michigan Festival of Music is a nonprofit corporation supported in part by individual donations and numerous grants.

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