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Tri-Cities concert to explore immigration through music. ‘That is the power of great art’

Allison Stormo of Tri-City Herald

As a self-described artist of today, Justin Raffa says he is influenced by what he sees happening in the world around him, and it’s hard for him not to respond. “As an artist, this is how I communicate,” said Raffa, who is marking a decade as the artistic director of the Mid-Columbia Mastersingers. Raffa responded to current immigration events by compiling the upcoming Mastersingers “American Dreamers” concert Jan. 10-12. The latest program in the 2019-20 Mastersingers season explores issues surrounding immigration in partnership with the Tri-Cities Immigrant Coalition. Performances are 7:30 p.m. Jan. 10 at St. Patrick Catholic Church, 1320 W Henry St., Pasco; 7:30 p.m. Jan. 11 at St. Joseph Catholic Church, 901 W. Fourth Ave., Kennewick, and a matinee at 4 p.m. Jan. 12 at St. Joseph, 907 S. Sixth St., Sunnyside, “It is pretty obvious immigration is a key domestic issue in this country,” Raffa said. “In putting this concert together, I wanted to get involved in the conversation.” In selecting pieces, Raffa considered the broad issues of immigration. He said all the pieces are generic in nature — intentionally so. “I wanted to create a picture that shows immigration issues are not new and since the founding of America, it is something we have struggled with,” he said. NOT TAKING SIDES Instead of taking on political aspects of the issue, Raffa said he viewed the topic as a humanitarian one. “I hope that shows that we aren’t taking sides per se, or even proposing solutions,” he said. “We are just presenting the current scenario and we help tell stories that help people think about it.” All the compositions the choir will sing are contemporary pieces written by those living in the U.S. — many by those who have immigration stories of their own. The concert opens with a rendition of “The Star Spangled Banner” by composer Emily Lau, a Hong Kong native living in Portland. The performance continues with pieces with titles such as “Love Your Neighbor,” ”Journey Home” and “The Road Home.” The featured piece, “American DREAMers,” is a 25-minute acappella work composed and to be performed by Melissa Dunphy. It’s based on the words of five young Americans who were brought to America as children. “These stories are all very American stories, because the people we’re talking about here are Americans,” said Dunphy, of Philadelphia. “We all have stories in our lives or in our ancestors’ lives of difficult journeys to a new home, figuring out a new culture and finding a way to belong.” NATIONAL AWARD-WINNING ARTIST The national award-winning artist was born in Australia as the daughter of refugees. Her mother fled from mainland China by swimming to Hong Kong and her father left Greece after World War II. And while her stepfather was born in Australia, his parents were refugees from the Japanese occupation of China during WWII. When Dunphy was 22, she met her now husband of 16-years and “pulled up stumps” to put down roots in his native homeland of the U.S. and created an immigration story of her own. “The experiences in this piece feel familiar to me because I’ve been hearing about them and living them my whole life,” she said. Experiences like those in American DREAMers will be shared first-hand during a 30-minute “Behind the Music” talk before the concert. Dunphy will join two representatives from the Tri-Cities Immigration Coalition as they tell their stories and how they have been effected by the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. Raffa said he wants the audience to understand there are real stories behind the music, and the music is a different way to engage in the conversation that is less contentious than other outlets may be. “That is the power of great art,” he said. ▪ Tickets to “American Dreamers” are $25 for general admission for the Pasco and Kennewick concerts. Students in kindergarten through high school are admitted free. Groups of 10 or more are eligible for a discounted rate. Admission is free to the Sunnyside performance, with donations being accepted. Buy tickets at mcmastersingers.org.

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