The Washington Symphony Players and The Washington Singers Foundation will gather at the Music Center at Strathmore on Tuesday, April 17 for a concert followed by a black-tie cocktail party benefitting Marylanders who struggle with opioid addiction. “We’ll be performing an array of wonderful music including works by Mozart, Bizet, Tchaikovsky, Gershwin and Sousa,” Conductor Ulysses James said. All ticket proceeds will go to those in need.
It’s difficult to avoid news of the opioid epidemic in this country—and perhaps even more so to prevent it from affecting you personally. According to a January 2018 report by the Maryland Department of Health, 1,501 opioid-related deaths were reported between January and September 2017. Carin Miller, who was an ordinary suburban mother and wife, is a prime example. Her husband was injured and his doctor prescribed Percocet. This simple moment—being hurt and filling a prescription—led to an 11-year addiction.
Miller’s husband started taking pills for the pain, then he went doctor shopping, and then he turned to street drugs. Their son witnessed his father’s fall into addiction and his difficult road to recovery. But he, too, because of easy access to pills through a friend, formed an addiction that ultimately found him injecting heroin into his veins every day. With luck and grueling work, both Miller’s husband and son are alive and well today. The experience inspired her to act. She formed a support group called Save our Children that grew and merged into a life-saving grassroots nonprofit organization: Maryland Heroin Awareness Advocates (MHAA), for which she now serves as president.
“I’ve chosen a very sad way to spend my life,” Miller said. “We’ve had so many deaths of children.” Her sadness, however, fuels a tireless energy and a fierce belief that lives can be saved through education, awareness and direct assistance to those in need. The group helps families who cannot afford health insurance get treatment and navigate the difficult waters of social services. They are working to make Narcan, a drug that can stop the effects of an overdose instantly, available in schools.
Familiar with Miller’s work, H. David Meyers–CEO of AgriSmart, Inc., and a philanthropist, oboist and executive director of Beethoven Found: Tribute to Wounded Warriors, a Rockville-based nonprofit–approached her. Meyers then reached out to Ulysses James, conductor of the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic (WMP), a community orchestra in Alexandria, Virginia.
“I have performed very often with H. David throughout many years, and he invited me to join the effort,” James said. “I am aware of the terrible toll the opioid crisis has caused in Maryland and did not hesitate to become involved.” James will lead The Washington Symphony Players, which is made up of professional and semi-professional musicians from throughout the metropolitan area.
“Most of the program was chosen by me,” James said. “Actually, it was a very challenging task. I wanted music for the audience I’m expecting. This audience is there because they want to support a worthy cause, and so, most are probably not serious lovers of classical music, but they like popular music like rock and R&B, country, etc. Many do know some of the lighter classical pieces that have been enjoyed popularly. Most of Gershwin’s work is in this category and so is music from a well-liked opera like ‘Carmen’ by Bizet.”
Although James initially had the idea to create a medley of Beatles tunes, the rights were, unfortunately, not within range for a concert in which all musicians and the conductor are donating their time. “That meant that I had to stick with music in the Washington Metropolitan Philharmonic Association (WMPA) library,” James said.
“H. David Meyers, the person who really thought of and has promoted the concert, is a fine oboist,” James said. For the program, Meyers wanted to perform part of a Concerto for Oboe, Harp and Orchestra written for him by Gary Haberman. The harpist will be WMPA’s Heidi Sturniolo.
Also, on the program is Handel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” from the opera “Solomon,” written for two oboes and a string orchestra. “H. David and the other oboist will ham it up and compete during the performance,” James said. “Finally, H. David has a friend who is a soprano who wanted to sing ‘Summertime’ from Gershwin’s ‘Porgy and Bess,’ a sure crowd pleaser.”
“Strathmore’s Concert Hall, in my estimation, is the finest hall in the region,” James said. “The acoustics, support system and comfort of the hall are all splendid.” The group hopes to fill all 1,000 seats. “It will be a wonderful evening,” James said, “where everyone involved, performers and audience members, will be donating their gifts to the MHAA to help stem the destruction of the current crisis.”
The evening promises to entertain as well as to provide real-world help to those in our community suffering from addiction. “We are hopeful that the Strathmore concert will be the first of a series of concerts performed by major symphonies across America on the same day or week to accentuate the awareness and support for the opioid crisis,” Meyers said.
The Washington Symphony Players and The Washington Singers Foundation present a benefit concert for Maryland Heroin Awareness Advocates at the Music Center at Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda, at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 17. Tickets range from $50 to $175 and are available at https://www.strathmore.org/events-and-tickets/md-heroin-awareness-advocates. Learn more about Maryland Heroin Awareness Advocates at www.mdheroinawareness.org.