Gilroy and Christopher high school choirs sing world premiere of song in memorial to Garlic Festival shooting


The Gilroy High School Chamber Singers and Christopher High School Chamber Choir debuted a world premiere choral work, “May Our Eyes Remain Open” by American composer Dr. Giselle Wyers on Monday, Dec. 9, with a second performance Dec. 10.

Both 7:30pm performances were at the Gilroy High School Student Center, as part of Gilroy’s winter choral concert

The schools’ choirs had commissioned Wyers, a University of Washington choral composer and professor and a UC Santa Cruz graduate, to create a new composition for mixed chorus and piano in the wake of the shootings at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

Choir directors Jonathan Souza of Gilroy and Kira Dixon of Christopher High School worked closely with Wyers to bring this composition to life, according to the district. 

“Following the shootings at the 2019 Gilroy Garlic Festival, Mr. Souza and Miss Dixon collaborated with Dr. Wyers to create an anthem of hope, compassion and honesty,” the school district said in an announcement released Dec. 9. “A great number of the Gilroy and Christopher High School Choir and booster club members were volunteering at the Gilroy Garlic Festival on July 28.” 

Wyers said, “I wrote this work for Gilroy High School and Christopher High School’s choirs shortly after the tragic Gilroy Garlic Festival shooting, an event attended by many local students as they were working for their booster programs as part of annual fundraising efforts.

“Imagine the shock and fear everyone felt, on a random day in July when they had expected to just be together, make some food for festival participants and enjoy the sunny weather,” she wrote.

“Unfortunately, this is too common an occurrence in American today, and my composition is only one of many written to commemorate losses from mass shootings. I thought long and hard, and collaborated closely with one of the commissioning choir’s directors, Jon Souza, before choosing the text,” Wyers wrote.

She said the text of the work “chooses hope, truth and honesty over fear, cynicism and the shame of ‘survival guilt.’”

The text, she wrote, asks people to “transform poison” by finding “the gift of the fire burning in our being…even in the face of tragedy” and to accept “the greatness of our sorrow and not run from its touch or its flame.”

“Finally, it asks us to remember who we really are, even when pain and loss inevitably changes us,” Wyers wrote.

“To set the scene for this poetic journey, I chose a rocking, almost poetic motive in the piano which represents the ‘happy sad’ quality of life,” the composer said. “There are moments of poignant dissonance in the voices, but I also chose to utilize rhythms and chords from classic rock, bringing an almost anthem-like feel to the center of the piece, as the singers search for strength, meaning and hope.

“It is my sincere hope that listening to this work will allow a framework for the listener to contemplate and hope for a better world. Let us all set our intentions to work for a day when we are safer from random violence and more able to live in peace, even amid life’s inevitable challenges.”



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