MidDAY music still a blessing

Emily Pesavento (left) and Tara Alexander.

The community outreach music series MidDAY at Grace Concert, presented by Grace Lutheran Church’s Performing Arts Ministry, will celebrate its fourth anniversary on Friday, Dec. 9 at noon.

This year’s December concert will celebrate the return of French horn player Emily Reppun Pesavento and Tara Alexander, a professional soprano. Both are members of Grace Church and were performers during the inaugural MidDAY at Grace Concert in December 2018.

Pesavento and Alexander will reprise some of the selections they presented at that first MidDAY concert.

They will be joined by Megan Hayes, a Culver City born and raised flutist.

Mary Lou “Marya” Basaraba, director of Music Ministries at Grace Lutheran Church, herself will be accompanying the musicians on the piano, just as she did four years ago.

The free concert series began as a way of reaching out to the neighboring communities to share concerts presented by top local professional musicians and vocal artists, especially those with a strong association to Culver City. The concerts are without charge and designed to be attended during the lunch hour by nearby workers, seniors and music lovers of all sorts.

Megan Hayes

Basaraba said that professional musicians and singers have presented more than 40 concerts in the past four years, donating their time and talent and designating donations to various nonprofit organizations of their choosing.

“Since April 2020, all donations have benefitted the Grace Diner Food Ministry,” Basaraba said. “The performers have come from an extremely wide range of musical styles and genres and have included highly qualified professional artists and some remarkable new, developing talent.”

The MidDAY concerts are usually performed on the second or third Friday of each month with only a few months missed due to COVID shutdowns.

However, even during the height of the COVID pandemic, Basaraba was able to present virtual compilations of music videos by the Culver City Chamber Orchestra and the Culver City Flute Choir.

The community outreach concert series attracts musicians from all across Culver City and the greater Los Angeles County area. Many of the musicians are members of prestigious musical ensembles and local music organizations such as the Culver City Symphony Orchestra and Culver City Chamber Orchestra.

“We have presented composers, pianists, string and brass quartets, opera, jazz and musical theater singers and everyone enjoys bringing music that they might otherwise not have the opportunity to perform in an intimate recital setting,”

Basaraba said. “We provide a warm, receptive and enthusiastic public so the artists often come with music that they are trying out before an important engagement elsewhere.”

Basaraba said that donations collected during the event usually range from $400 to $600 depending on the weather and the number of attendees. During the past four years of concerts, more than $15,000 has been collected in donations.

“Depending on the attendance of each MidDAY concert, I find that people put in a certain sum at the door,” she said. “Once they see what these exceptional artists are giving in their time, talent and expertise they are usually open to add to their donation as they leave the event. I remind them that they should consider donating what it might cost them to go to a movie and it’s usually the case that 30 percent more money shows up in the ‘pot’ as people are exiting. We have a marvelous church member, Lois Mulleneaux who dresses the table at the door to celebrate the season be it Thanksgiving, Valentines or July 4. She is our Greeter and does a delightful job sharing the programs and soliciting Donations for this very worthy cause.”

According to Basaraba, the mission of the MidDAY At Grace monthly concerts is to provide an opportunity for the performers and audiences to experience beautiful music in an intimate setting right in their own neighborhood without having to travel to Downtown Los Angeles or farther.

“For the artists who visit us from outside the community, the MidDAY concerts provide an audience of dedicated music lovers who enjoy a wide range of musical styles,” Basaraba said.

A recent concert featured Risa Larson, a professional soprano vocalist who has performed with both the L.A. Opera and the Los Angeles Master Chorale.

The main beneficiary of the donations that result from these concerts is the Grace Diner Food Ministry which began as a dream of Family Ministry Director Lisa Skelley and congregant Ken Smith as a way of sharing a home cooked meal in pleasant circumstances to the local unhoused and underserved community.

Skelley was named Culver City’s 2021 Citizen of the Year for her services to the community through the Diner outreach.

In 2010, the Diner began in the church Parish Hall every Monday night and grew to serve 100 guests each week at tables using white table cloths and real cutlery and using volunteers as servers, making the recipients feel as if they were in an actual restaurant or in someone’s home.

“In March, 2020 when COVID restrictions made it impossible to continue in the original format, the Diner moved downstairs and outside,” Basaraba said. “The number of volunteers grew as did the number of needy guests and to date, more than 130,000 meals have been shared with neighbors who have been severely impacted by the challenges of the past few years.”

For more information on Grace Diner, including how you can get involved, visit their website at gracediner.org.