A couple from New York, touring musicians, lost gigs worldwide during the coronavirus pandemic. With time to spare, their virtual concerts have raised thousands of dollars for those in need.
When Erin Shields belted out Being Alive - the showstopper from the Broadway classic Company - the title took on extra levels of meaning. This virtual concert, broadcast from Shields’ living room, helped fund the food pantry at Mosaic West Queens Church. It also gave Shields and her husband, David Shenton, an opportunity to resume their artistic lives.
It began when they saw the lines that stretched for blocks outside the pantry, which is near their apartment. Several friends had lost jobs after Broadway closed, and they felt the need to help.
“When your entire industry shuts down, you think, ‘well, how are we going to do this?’” Shields said. “Seeing the people in line ..., you go, ‘I can be that person and that could be my family member.’”
“I thought, I’m not a doctor ... I don’t really have much to offer. But then I thought, well, you know, we can perform,” said Shields, a soprano from Illinois who sings with her husband, a British composer, pianist and violinist. Other talented friends were willing to join for a good cause.
“We have all these connections to Broadway singers outside of their work on Broadway, so we wanted to capitalize on that,” Shenton said. During a recent concert, smiling families on Zoom clapped and sang along (on mute). Among the performers were Broadway musicians known for their work in everything from Hamilton to The Little Mermaid.
Shields sang crowd favorites, including Somewhere Over the Rainbow - she played Dorothy in her high school’s production, her first big role. Shenton played a huge Bösendorfer 225 piano that he lovingly calls the couple’s baby. He named it Wolfgang Kathryn in memory of his late mother and her favorite composer, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.
For years, the couple have performed at churches in New York. And they’re no strangers to good deeds - they’ve sung to older adults and Alzheimer’s patients in Illinois, taught music to kids in Arizona and followed their passion for animal rights by traveling to Zimbabwe to take care of elephants and protect other vulnerable wildlife.