Cantata recalls Triangle Shirtwaist tragedy

Story by Alexis Jacquett; Video by Xavier Green

SAN DIEGO —  San Diego State  University  hosted a powerful commemoration concert on March 23 to remember 146 women who lost their lives in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factorey Fire in New York City. Dr. Sue Gonda, the creator of the U.S. Women’s History courses at Grossmont College, gave a heartfelt introduction to this cantata, providing background on this time period and the hardships faced by  immigrants in America.

Gonda provided a sense of connection to these women who earned their living sewing clothes in a factory on the eighth, ninth and tenth floors where exit doors had been locked, preventing the women from saving themselves.

The concert was held in the fairly small Rhapsody Hall, providing a setting that was  intimate and personal. There were approximately 70 people in attendance. The cantata was in four movements: toil, inferno,  escape, and mourning.

The text was spoken and sung by Elizabeth Schwartz and Lou Fanucci, who also played the accordion. Yale Strom, the composer, is an artist in residence in the Jewish studies program at SDSU and  also a Violinist. Fred Benedetti of the Grossmont music faculty  played the guitar, and Mark Dresser played the contrabass.

One of the pieces was sung in Yiddish and Strom said this  was the first time that it was sung in one hundred years. He found this poem that was written three weeks after the fire in the Library of Congress .

The cantata started out very strong and movingly. I could hear the pain and agony through the music. The instruments  gave depth and expression. The first movement, “toil,” had different stages where it was loud and fast paced, and then it was soft and slower. It went back and forth.

In a subsequent movement,  Schwartz sang the piece in Yiddish and used her hands to symbolize the women sewing.

At the end of the cantata, they sang a song that got the crowd involved. They sang a traditional Jewish song. Everyone clapped along and sang along.

If you missed the performance, there is still a chance for you to make the 7 p.m.,  Sunday, April 10th concert that is being held at old Temple Beth Israel in Heritage Park in Old Town.

Jacquett is a Media Comm  199 student at Grossmont College

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