Many Ukrainian children are traumatized by the violence caused by the invading Russian army. So it’s only fitting that a group of young musicians from this area put on a concert to benefit the young victims of this war. “Songs for Ukraine: A youth piano and strings concert to support the children of Ukraine” was held on March 12 at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Oak Park. Among the musicians participating were five students from the Gasse School of Music, in Forest Park.

The concert was the brainchild of two young musicians, Dariusz Radziszewski and Matilda Murphy. Two weeks ago, Dariusz’s mother contacted Good Shepherd Pastor Kathy Nolte to see if holding a benefit concert for Ukraine would be possible. Though it was short notice, the church and the musicians pulled it together. They decorated the pews with yellow and blue ribbons, and performers wore pins with the Ukrainian colors. 

A collection basket was placed near the entrance to the sanctuary. It overflowed with cash and checks. The pews were packed with musicians and their families. The 20 students who performed were from 10 local music schools. Following an introduction by Dariusz and Matilda, the audience stood as Evan, Liam and Duncan Campbell performed an instrumental rendition of Ukraine’s national anthem.

Titled “Ukraine Has Not Yet Perished,” it contains the line, “We will lay our soul and body down for the cherished freedom.” Pastor Nolte then narrated a brief video for one of the charities the concert benefitted: “The Voices of Children Charitable Foundation.” This organization helps Ukrainian children express their feelings and fears about wartime violence. It also promotes a lifelong love of sports.

In the video, a 6-year-old Ukrainian boy shoots baskets in a gym, while calmly talking about staying safe from gunfire and landmines. He doesn’t seem personally afraid but is afraid for his parents. The concert then commenced. It featured 20 classical pieces for piano and strings. 

Good Shepherd’s sanctuary has superb acoustics and Daniel Gasse describes their grand piano as “fantastic.” This is why the Gasse School of Music holds its annual spring recitals at the church. Unfortunately, the recitals here have been on hiatus for several years. The church suffered a devastating fire in 2018. 

During reconstruction of the sanctuary, they created more performance space for musicians and dancers. They also consulted with renowned sound engineer, Rick Talaske, who approved the acoustics. The church was just getting ready to reopen when the pandemic struck. “Songs for Ukraine” marked the triumphant return of the spring recital.

During the concert, Gasse could feel the “very intense vibe” of a group of people united in a common cause. The audience wasn’t just appreciative with their applause, they were generous with their money, collecting $5,000 — of which $2,600 went to Voices of Children and $2,400 went to the Lutheran World Relief Fund for Ukraine. The concert was such a success, Gasse said he would collaborate in any future programs involving the other schools of music. 

The Gasse School of Music is now in its 21st year in Forest Park. Students range in age from 3 to 66. I became a student at Gasse at the age of 50. I had never played an instrument, or learned how to read music but my piano teacher, Hulya Alpakin, taught me both. Thanks to the solid foundation she gave me, I’m still playing 17 years later.

Learning an instrument is a lifelong gift. Attending “Songs for Ukraine” provides lifelong memories of how a group of young musicians cared for young victims of violence in a war-torn country. 

John Rice

John Rice is a columnist/novelist who has seen his family thrive in Forest Park. He has published two books set in the village: The Ghost of Cleopatra and The Doll with the Sad Face.