— from There’s Still My Joy by Beth Nielsen Chapman
If you’ve attended a recent musical production at Traverse City’s Old Town Playhouse, or if you attended 2016’s Winter Songs & Carols concert, Christy Burich is probably already a familiar face and unmistakable voice. She puts so much energy and feeling behind her voice and onto the stage, it’s hard to forget the experience.
While working with Christy in rehearsals for last year’s concert, she mentioned she’d always wanted to create a concert or an album to help those who may be suffering through grief — a program about hope, healing, and renewal.
My eyes widened as I quickly told her it was a theme I’d considered for our 2017 Winter Songs & Carols concert. I’d been afraid to mention my idea to anyone because I had serious doubts about putting together such a program. I reasoned our audience expects a reflective but generally light-hearted evening of music. How would we explain a holiday concert that touches on grief and loss? Thankfully, after our chance conversation, I began a collaboration with Christy over the following year in which I learned about her journey through grief and healing. Eventually, I realized my fears about this project were very short-sighted.
In 2013, Christy’s husband Larry passed away after a year-long battle with a very rare form of cancer. “From the very night Larry passed, I began a conversation with him on paper,” Christy says. “I was emptying my heart of all the pain and sadness — my longing to see him, my pleading for forgiveness for my anger at his leaving. I would pause, listen, and just wait for words and answers to come.”
Christy says a lot of her healing came through journaling and painting. “Some say my life is an open book — I’ve never been able to contain my feelings,” she says. “But, I believe that’s what makes me an artist: the desire, the need to express my feelings through art, song, or monologue. For me, art is a way to fully acknowledge, honor, and release my emotions. When I’m vulnerable with an audience — big or small — I feel a sense of Oneness, that our souls are deeply connected.”
This year’s program was created by pairing writings from Christy’s personal journals with a carefully-curated program of music. Though the holiday season often asks those who are grieving to hide their feelings of emptiness and uncertainty, we’re hoping our unique program will invite everyone to the holiday table to explore the season of winter as a time of peace, healing, and renewal. I talked with Christy, recently, about her collaboration with Manitou Winds, for our 2017 Winter Songs & Carols program.
Being an artist and a vocalist, it makes sense you’d feel drawn to music as a means of expression and a way to explore your grief journey. Do you remember the moment when the idea of a concert like this started to take shape for you?
Not too long after Larry’s passing, I realized I had two choices: either live a full and vibrant life, or be swallowed up by grief simply waiting to die. I eventually chose to live fully. In part, my decision was inspired by my stepson who was just 13 years old when his father died. I realized if he could honor his father’s memory by consistently rising up, giving life his very best, then I could too! His determination to create something good from our loss is what inspired me.
In the deepest struggles of my journey, I was comforted by the writings of wise and inspired authors, and also through the personal stories of others who were taking part in grief support groups. Grateful for their support, I knew even early on I’d want to someday be that support for others. That’s when I began to have a vision of a healing concert.
I’ll never forget the moment when we were talking after rehearsal, last year, and we realized we’d both had this same idea about a concert to comfort and heal. Did it surprise you when I told you I’d been creating a holiday-themed concert?
I never imagined it would be during the holidays, but it all seems to be Divine timing! Larry and I were married just two days after Christmas — it was our favorite season! Since his passing, the holidays, our anniversary, and Larry’s birthday following New Year’s Day have always been hard to endure. The whole season of winter can be especially hard for those missing a loved one. While I hadn’t pictured it, I think that’s why this concert is happening during winter and the holidays.
Part of the program we’ve put together is a monologue taking you and the audience all the way back to the beginning of your grief journey: the night Larry passed away. When we discussed using these particular pieces of writing, I remember asking you if you’d be able to get through the performance.
I’ve still got friends and family wondering the same thing! I feel like rejoicing when I tell them my strength is coming from the lasting and loving connection I still have with Larry. I don’t feel alone in this; I am so grateful to God and the Angels for this very auspicious opportunity to perform and share.
You’ll be reliving a very personal, painful time in front of an audience — entering into that vulnerability you’ve mentioned earlier. What sort of message are you hoping will stick with those who attend?
For all of us, I want this concert be a time of remembrance and unity with our loved ones. I also want to show there is healing beyond grief and give assurance that Love Never Dies! I’ve learned through my journey that our relationships continue in spirit. The connections we share are still real although they have changed. Perhaps, in some ways, we become more intimately connected than before. Our loved ones are only a thought away. Wherever we go, they are there guiding, loving, and protecting us. Always.
Without giving any spoilers, what do you think will be your favorite part of the program?
There’s a song toward the end of the program that happens to be Larry’s favorite song. It carries a beautiful and encouraging message. I sang it to him many times when he was ill, and over the years it has shown up in my own life at different times, bringing an unexpected smile. I know I’m going to enjoy singing those words to him, again, and to our audience.
Collaborating with Christy for this year’s special program has been an honor and a treasured experience. We admire her bravery and strength in sharing this difficult journey with our audience, and we’re grateful our music can be a part of that experience. It has been a memorable experience for each of us. Along the way, there have been many moments during rehearsal when one or all of us have been choking back tears. Thankfully, just moments later we’ve also been brought to tears of laughter while gathered around the table sharing (embarrassing) stories and comfort foods.
As musicians, we are sometimes handed the burden and privilege of sharing music during difficult moments in people’s lives. Emotionally, that strain can be difficult to bear, but having music in those moments as a tangible means of expression can embolden us, strengthening us when words alone might fail. The message of our concert this December is one of hope and healing. We hope you can join us.