Pianist’s annual concert benefits AIDS orphans

Katie Kowalski, arts@ptleader.com
Posted 5/23/17

A Port Townsend church program continues to support the education of AIDS orphans living in Uganda thanks in part to an annual benefit concert put on by pianist Lisa Lanza.

Lanza, who has been the …

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Pianist’s annual concert benefits AIDS orphans

Posted

A Port Townsend church program continues to support the education of AIDS orphans living in Uganda thanks in part to an annual benefit concert put on by pianist Lisa Lanza.

Lanza, who has been the pianist at Grace Lutheran Church since 2008, was set to perform a concert at the church about eight years ago. “It occurred to me that I could have the proceeds go to the orphans,” she said. The benefit became an annual tradition, and has raised about $2,500 each year.

This year’s concert features a lineup of local musicians – from bandoneon player Bertram Levy to violinist Marina Gittens to student ukulele player Kenny Nichol – selected by Lanza to perform at 4 p.m., Sunday, May 28 at the church, located 1120 Walker St. A $20 donation is suggested.

SUPPORT

Under the leadership of Sharon Dembro and her husband, Mark, Grace Lutheran has been contributing to the Ugandan AIDS orphan program since 2002. The couple became involved in the program in the mid-’90s when living in Stockholm, Sweden, where they met a priest – the Rev. James Ssemakula – who supported the education of HIV/AIDS orphans in rural Uganda until his death in 2005.

“We were desperate,” said Dembro of the need to find someone to replace his work. They ended up finding a man named Kenneth Kasule, who came highly recommended and exceeded their expectations. “He's been a real blessing,” she said.

Over the years, they've helped about 40 children graduate and become middle-class citizens. This year, one woman is becoming a medical doctor. “We're so proud of her,” she said.

“We're now supporting 21 children,” Dembro said. Kasule selects students for the program who have the best chance of receiving government funding. “We pay their school fees, uniforms – a pair of shoes every year”; the program also helps out with other needs, such as medical.

Each of the children have a pen pal at the church. “They like to talk about what's being planted, what's going on at school, what their activities are,” said Dembro.

CONCERT

“It's going to be a mix of celebrating different people from our community that are happy to share their music with us for this cause,” said Lanza of the program she's put together this year. It's a mix of youths and adults, as well as some newcomers. “I like to always introduce people to the community through this concert, Lanza said.

She's joined by Levy and Gittens, and a new PT resident, cellist Maryann Tapiro, for some tango music; other musicians performing include pianist Mark Johnson, sopranos Linda Bach and Ginger Moore, baritone Owen Brummell, mezzo-soprano Sydney Keegan, ukulele players Kenny Nichol and Bruce Cowan, the band Bella Jack, the Port Townsend Youth Chorus and the band Shuttle Service with Odette Jennings and Declan Goldenbogen.

Lanza noted that a letter from Kasule is usually read at the concert, and includes thoughts and notes from the children whom the church and community support. “They know about the concert going on and they send their greetings,” Lanza said. “It's really fun to have that connection.”

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