by Kim Gronniger
It began in 2010 when Edward and Lisa Letourneau, along with others, decided to host a Christmas dinner and concert to help Hayden High School purchase a new piano. Maureen Brogren, vocal music educator at Hayden [...] , arranged the songs for the evening. The Letourneaus' daughter, Michelle, who played mallets on the drumline in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish band, [...] joined other musicians of the Hayden community for the first event, which was hastily planned within a month and conducted in Hayden's decked-out band room.
But however rushed the inaugural event -- which became known as "Hark! Topeka's Christmas Spectacular" --led to more than $4,500 in contributions and a serendipitous gift of a Mason & Hamlin 1920's piano valued at $20,000.
And that was to be the end of the holiday spectacular. [...] But big musical hits, like holidays, have a way of returning. Michelle had already lined up nine band mates and other Notre Dame musicians to perform and was undaunted by the additional challenge of finding someone to arrange the music. She enlisted friends of Hayden volunteers to assist. Her group of traveling Irish holiday musicians descended on the Letourneaus' home one week before Christmas of 2011 and set to work to reprise the previous year's successful launch.
Since that year, the event has become a tradition
"Each year the event has gotten better-- branding and marketing, the staging, the lighting, the participation of professional musicians and the number of people who attend," says Lisa, who credits a dedicated committee comprising Notre Dame Club members and alumni, Hayden staff, parents and alumni, Christ the King parishioners and other volunteers.
The tradition has taken on a life of its own, and the Letourneaus describe an "astounding" response from spectators and participants that has led to the event's continuation.
Many of the original college musicians continue to return as well, but as Notre Dame alumni.
This year will be no different. In fact, the preparations have already begun.
Months of planning, including distributing individual parts to each musician, two days of rehearsals culminate in a Saturday evening performance that sparks joy extending well beyond the final applause as Hayden and TARC apply the funds received to key initiatives.
"It's been really gratifying to organize and produce a uniquely Topeka celebratory event that benefits these two organizations," says Edward. "The Notre Dame students and area musicians are awesome. Together, they bring the house down every time."
BECAUSE OF THE GENEROSITY OF THE COMMUNITY, HARK! HAS RAISED MORE THAN $100,000.00 TO BENEFIT HAYDEN HIGH SCHOOL, THE MARIAN CLINIC AND TARC!