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SLU Faculty Come Together to Create Tribute to Frontline Health Care Workers


While the social distancing necessitated by the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has separated the Saint Louis University community, faculty members from the Department of Fine and Performing Arts have come together to create a musical tribute to those fighting the virus on the frontlines.

Wen Shen, M.M.
Wen Shen, M.M.

Inspired by her SLU colleague, Jin Wang, M.D., a fellow in the University’s Division of Infectious Diseases, Wen Shen, M.M., who teaches piano at SLU, organized her fellow arts faculty members to create a tribute video to frontline health care workers at the St. Louis region’s hospitals and health care centers. Wang, whose son is one of Shen’s students, had reached out to the SLU pianist about organizing and performing a benefit concert, Shen said.

The concert was to be part of Wang’s efforts to organize a neighborhood support group with the St. Louis Chinese-American community to provide information, physical and monetary help to those impacted by the pandemic, Shen explained. Wang’s efforts have been in addition to her work on the frontline fighting COVID-19 locally.

“When she reached out to me about organizing and performing a benefit concert to help fight against the disease and give hope, I immediately accepted the invitation,” Shen recalled. “My inspiration was the courageousness and selflessness of the health care workers who are on the frontline helping patients every day.”

Expanding the concert to video form, Shen put out a call to her SLU colleagues.

“After thinking about how I would approach this project, I reached out to my colleagues from the music department and everyone jumped on board with this project,” Shen said.

The video features a vocal performance by SLU’s Stephanie Tennill, M.M., and Shen’s performance partners Xiaoxiao Qiang and Yin Xiong from the St. Louis Symphony, also contributed to the video.

SLU’s Aaron Johnson, D.M.A., mixed the video’s tracks together, Meme Wolff, the department’s coordinator offered practical advice, and department chair Cathleen Fleck, Ph.D., offered encouragement and backing for the team’s efforts. Wang contributed as well, collecting videos of her health care colleagues, to share as part of the video.

While each team member put their talents to work, they did so while sheltering in place, recording while home-schooling children, helping students with final exams, and juggling their home and professional lives, Shen said.

The team chose "Amazing Grace," a favorite song of Wang’s.

“I thought how appropriate its lyrics would fit with this project: ‘Through many dangers, toils, and snares we have already come, t'was Grace that brought us safe thus far and Grace will lead us home,’” Shen explained.

"We used the tune 'Land of Rest,' which is traditionally linked to 'Jerusalem, My Happy Home,' as well, and I think it's good to be reminded that we are not destined to suffer for no reason, and that in time we will be delivered from all the pain and absurdities and emerge stronger and better through the grace of God," she continued.  "This is one of the ideologies that makes SLU unique in its Jesuit mission and value."

"I wish I could be as precise and eloquent as Dostoevsky when he wrote in The Brothers Karamazov: 'I believe like a child that suffering will be healed and made up for, that all the humiliating absurdity of human contradictions will vanish like a pitiful mirage... at the moment of eternal harmony, something so precious will come to pass that it will suffice for all hearts, for the comforting of all resentments, for the atonement of all the crimes of humanity, for all the blood that they've shed; that it will make it not only possible to forgive but to justify all that has happened.'"

Watch the Video

Saint Louis University is a Catholic, Jesuit institution that values academic excellence, life-changing research, compassionate health care, and a strong commitment to faith and service. Founded in 1818, the University fosters the intellectual and character development of more than 13,000 students on campuses in St. Louis and Madrid, Spain. Building on a legacy of now more than 200 years, Saint Louis University continues to move forward with an unwavering commitment to a higher purpose, a greater good.

Story by Amelia Flood, University Marketing and Communications