Pipers pipe GCU holiday spirit into Andre House
Story and photos by Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
You don’t need to bring joy to the world, at least not in its entirety. But you can bring moments of happiness to a little part of it.
Grand Canyon University’s Clarinet Studio did just that Sunday evening during dinner service at Andre House of Arizona, a Catholic charity that serves about 550 meals a day to Phoenix’s poor and homeless populations, though some days that number can reach 750 meals served.
As the sun starts to wane, across the gated campus from St. Vincent de Paul and its Urban Farm, a white truck sputters slowly down the street. A woman driving asks a man outside Andre House, one of dozens of people gathering there, if he would like a sandwich — a prelude to the 5:30 p.m. dinner service inside.
It’s where the Clarinet Studio, an ensemble of GCU musicians, most from the University’s Pep Band (though some are alumni), have filled one corner of the dinner room under a portrait of St. Andre Bessette with the words “Pray for Us.” Their music stands are up. Their purple shirts — and red Santa hats and reindeer antler headbands — are on. Their sheet music is out. They’re ready to go.
“I remember the last time you played for us. It was back in April. It was my birthday. You played ‘Happy Birthday,’” Andre House core staff member Ana Chavez said with a smile to Tim Haas, the adjunct professor of clarinet who helms the Clarinet Studio.
As dinner guests started to stream in, carrying trays of fried chicken and steamed broccoli, the group launched into “Dance of the Reed Flutes” from The Nutcracker Suite, “Away in a Manger,” “Good King Wenceslas,” “Christ Was Born on Christmas Day” and other familiar Christmas tunes.
“God bless you!” said one man, raising his bread, as others applauded after the end of one of the songs. “Sounds nice.”
This is the second time the Clarinet Studio has played for Andre House.
“I love doing this,” said Clarinet Studio musician and GCU junior biology major Allissa Hernandez, who performed with the Pep Band for two years. “It’s important to give back to your community — giving your time to give them joy and give them happiness.”
Hernandez said the clarinet ensemble is unique; not many all-clarinet ensembles perform in the community. The group has played, not only at Andre House, but at Merriment on Melrose, a community outreach event and fundraiser for school music programs.
— Lana Sweeten-Shults (@LanaSweetenShul) December 3, 2018
“I like that we’re encouraged to do this (volunteer to perform at community events),” music education major and clarinetist Vanessa Smith piped in, adding, “I like that it gives a sense of joy to people who maybe aren’t in the best place in life, especially right now.”
It was a thought echoed by her son Jonathan Smith, a high school sophomore at Moon Valley High who also plays with the ensemble: “I like giving back to the community. … I like helping them feel better in their life and be happy.”
Chavez said it’s not often that musical groups perform at Andre House, though sometimes on Saturdays a custodian will DJ. “He calls it his Holy Boom-Boom,” she said with a laugh.
“A lot of times things are so systemized,” she said. “This (music) brings a lot of joy.”
Longtime Andre House volunteer Father Duane Balcerski said he wasn’t so sure how well a clarinet ensemble would sound among the busyness going on in the dining room. He himself played clarinet in high school and knows how squeaky the instrument can be.
“But they are excellent,” he said with a smile. “Have you seen the people here stand up and applaud?”
One of the clients who just finished his meal stopped to speak with Father Duane to thank him and the rest of Andre House. “When I get my apartment, I’m going to give back to this place,” he said. “You guys have been wonderful.”
Clarinetist Bryan Toll, who graduated from GCU in 2017, didn’t hesitate to heed Haas’ call to play on Sunday.
“I just love sharing our spirit with the people here and giving them that joy,” he said.
Even as volunteers from Intel, dressed in their blue T-shirts, were wiping down tables during the dinnertime wind-down, the clarinetists still played — and even took in a request from Chavez to perform “Happy Birthday” one more time for one of the core staff members.
Haas is proud of the musicians in the group, who often show up for rehearsals as late as 8:30 p.m. — sometimes the only time musicians are able to meet, considering their busy schedules.
“They make my job really easy,” he said. “… These are good human beings with big hearts.”
Contact GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 602-639-7901.