Music + Arts

To the Hands: Songs of Compassion

The Fifth Avenue Chamber Choir and Instrumentalists, directed by Ryan Jackson, with Patrick Kreeger, organ and piano.

“God’s dream is that you and I and all of us will realize that we are family, that we are made for togetherness, for goodness, and for compassion.”—Desmond Tutu

The fall 2022 concert, In the Beginning: Songs of Creation, was conceived as the first of two complementary programs. The music and poetry of the first concert were an ode to the wonders of nature. The selections for the winter concert turn our hearts and minds toward the joys and challenges of human relationship. The program features an extremely diverse assortment of music, from pop standards by Billy Joel and Simon and Garfunkel, to new choral music and art songs by Saunder Choi, Daniel Ficarri, Jessica French and Gilda Lyons. At the heart of the program, and the inspiration for our concert’s title, is a modern-day masterpiece by the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw entitled To the Hands.

Written for choir and strings, To the Hands was commissioned by The Crossing, Philadelphia’s outstanding professional choir specializing in the performance of new music. The piece was composed in 2016 as a musical response to Dieterich Buxtehude’s 17th-century cycle of Good Friday cantatas, Membra Jesu Nostri (“Most Holy Limbs of Our Suffering Jesus”). Shaw was particularly taken with the third cantata, Ad manus (“To the Hands”), and drew on this movement as the primary inspiration for her own work.

Though Buxtehude’s piece meditates on the suffering of the crucified Jesus, Shaw broadens the imagery of wounded hands to consider the present-day suffering of displaced persons and those seeking refuge throughout the world. By subtly transforming the central question from, “What are these wounds in the midst of your hands?” to, “What are these wounds in the midst of our hands?”, she underscores that the pain and suffering of any part of the human family is pain and suffering borne by us all: we are all in this together.

Shaw responds to this assertion with music of searing beauty in a setting of words from Emma Lazarus’s sonnet “The New Colossus,” which is famously engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty. According to Shaw, “the poem’s lines, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,’ and its reference to the statue’s ‘beacon-hand’ present a very different image of a hand—one that is open, beckoning and strong. No wounds are to be found there—only comfort for those caught in a dangerous and complex environment.”

Please join us for what is certain to be a powerful and beautiful event.


Reserved Seating
General Admission