The unseasonably balmy weather outside Northeast Portland’s All Saints Catholic Church last Sunday reflected the warm feelings within as several hundred friends and admirers of singer Brian Tierney gathered to support the 29-year-old tenor, who was critically wounded in a still-unexplained shooting March 28. By the time it ended some three hours later, the event had transcended its announced purpose — though it certainly achieved that, to the tune of nearly $20,000 raised to help defray the family’s medical expenses — into a celebration of a popular musician and an expression of this city’s musical community.
Most of the participants had played or sung with Tierney, who shines as one of the brightest of the stellar Portland choral circuit, in high demand in performances demanding a strong, precise tenor presence or solo. He’s sung in the Portland State University choirs, Portland Baroque Orchestra, Cappella Romana, Resonance Ensemble, Oregon Repertory Singers (who were unable to participate because of their own simultaneously scheduled concert), Portland Opera Chorus, Cantores in Ecclesia, and more. He’s made a lot of music, and a lot of friends.
Pianist John Stuber and violinist Mary Rowell opened the proceedings with the familiar meditation from Jules Massenet’s opera Thais, followed by the clear voice of tenor Cahen Taylor in the spiritual “Shall We Gather at the River.” Other performers offered reprises of pieces performed in recent months: Cappella Romana, a section of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil; 45th Parallel, a movement of Dvorak’s “American” string quartet; The Ensemble, “Mystica” from Benjamin Britten’s Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (which Tierney had been scheduled to sing a few days after the shooting); and the Julians, two selections from their last concert. Cantores in Ecclesia excelled in a movement from William Byrd’s Mass for Four Voices, Portland Vocal Consort sang Portland-born composer Morten Lauridsen’s “Sure on This Shining Night,” and Resonance Ensemble “I Have Had Singing.”
The groups share so many members that sometimes it was hard to tell them apart. I spotted the members of In Mulieribus, too, singing with the other groups though not as a unit. Soprano Angela Niederloh performed Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “Silent Noon” and Robert Schumann’s “Widmung,” both accompanied by pianist Kira Whiting. The Portland Opera Chorus heralded next month’s production of Leonard Bernstein’s Candide with an exceptionally potent version of “Make Our Garden Grow,” and although they’re not a professional choir like the other performers, the St. Michaels and All Angels Choir, which Tierney helps direct, sounded just as eloquent in Herbert Howells’ “Like as the Hart.”
Their director, Scott Tuomi, one of Tierney’s voice teachers, delivered a brief, pitch- perfect speech about the stricken singer and the event. “You all know why we are here tonight,” he said. “We’re here to transcend the events that brought us together and celebrate the love, joy and God’s grace in the miracle that Brian is recovering, and will be back to sing with us again. And Brian will sing again, with a voice that was described recently in a sermon as ‘a gift from a particularly generous God.'”
Former Oregonian columnist and local TV newswoman Margie Boule, who emceed the affair with her usual graciousness, established a non-doleful mood from the outset — not about mourning, she declared, but a celebration of survival — and kept things moving despite the inevitable occasional hitches in such a complex, hastily arranged affair. She and two of the event organizers, Julians executive director Elizabeth Bacon (who attended PSU with Tierney and performs with him in PVC and Resonance Ensemble) and Beth Madsen-Bradford (who performed with Tierney with Mock’s Crest Theater), updated the audience about the donations and family needs, and they and others told stories about Tierney that showed what a funny, loving and admired figure he is in Portland’s choral music community. (The third main organizer was another PSU friend, Zakk Hoyt.) Tierney’s wife, Katie, drew smiles and tears when she thanked the gathered friends for all their help.
But it was Brian Tierney himself, though still hospitalized and unable to attend, who had the best line of the night, delivered in a note that his wife read to his assembled colleagues.
“I always knew that my dangerous lifestyle of stay at home dad/ church musician and opera singer would catch up with me someday, “ Tierney wrote. Everyone laughed, releasing the tension (and some tears) that had built up over the past few weeks. His next line further lightened the mood. “I am feeling more ‘saint-like,’” you know, ’cause I’m hole-y.” Groans ensued; Katie continued.
When I heard what you all were going to be singing tonight, I was a little jealous that you all get to sing such beautiful music, because under different circumstances, I would be right up there with you! There are no words to thank you for the amount of generosity, prayers, support and love that we have experienced. You are helping us to make it through this tough time, and I want you to know that I am getting stronger everyday and I WILL be singing with you all again soon!
All my love,
Although I’ve heard him sing often, I’ve never met Brian Tierney, but after hearing his words and those of his friends, and the music they made for him, I’m pretty sure I’d like him a lot.
Tuomi conducted the combined choirs in a stirring “The Promise of Living,” from Aaron Copland’s opera, The Tender Land, just after Tierney’s other main mentor, former PSU choir director Bruce Browne, led them in Josef Rheinberger’s “Abendlied.” Browne captured the spirit of the event in his brief remarks, thanking Tierney “for giving us the chance to show our best selves.” As Browne suggested, what started out as a benefit about a single injured member of the Portland music world had by the end of the evening evolved into a celebration of the powerful spirit of community that knits so much of this unusually collaborative musical community together. It’s a testament not just to Brian Tierney but to those who join him in making music here. As his friend Bacon said, “all you out there, you know that if anything happens to you, we’ve got your back!”
Contributions to the Brian Tierney Fund can be made at www.friendsofbt.com. Update: We’re told that Brian is now home from the hospital, and that as of May 1, contributions to the fund have surpassed $42,000.