Tucson will remember the victims of Friday's mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., by singing "Silent Night" by candlelight tonight.
At dusk - 5:24 p.m. according to organizers - community members and vocalists with several Tucson choruses will gather in the center of Winterhaven, at Christmas Avenue and Kleindale Road. Candles won't be provided but participants can bring them, organizers said.
The singalong sprung out of a blog posting Sunday by Arizona Daily Star cartoonist David Fitzsimmons. He encouraged people to turn off their holiday lights for one hour Friday night and light a candle to remember the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School mass shootings and to support gun-control reform.
"In that quiet darkness we will light a candle, pray for the dead, and pray our nation's leaders will see the light," Fitzsimmons wrote.
Fitzsimmons' initial idea was to douse Winterhaven's Festival of Lights - a Tucson tradition for 63 years - for one hour and light candles in their place. Winterhaven homeowners' group President Patricia Brescia said that idea would probably not go over well with the 250 households. But she and the Winterhaven homeowners board liked the idea of a community "Silent Night" gathering.
"I'm just happy that Winterhaven can be a part of showing support for the victims" of this tragedy, said Brescia, the mother of two who has lived in Winterhaven since 1996. "It's got to be hard on these families. I just can't imagine losing one of my children."
"I just thought it would be appropriate to have a memorial so that we don't forget that it's not Christmas as usual," Fitzsimmons added. "It's good to pause and remember the tragedy."
Winterhaven had a moment of silence for Newtown when it officially opened the festival last Saturday and the Tucson Girls Chorus on Sunday dedicated its annual holiday concert to the victims, singing and signing "Silent Night."
"I think any piece of music that talks about peace is just very powerful," said Marcela Molina, the chorus's artistic director and conductor. "For a community of people that are hurting - and we're talking about children here - it's a very powerful piece that will hopefully bring some healing with the horrific event."
"It is the Christmas season and the vast majority of these victims are kids. And for kids, Christmas is the high point of their year every year," added Eric Holtan, conductor of Tucson Chamber Artists whose members are expected to participate Friday. "This song is about Christmas, but not just about Christmas. The words 'Sleep in heavenly peace' … I think you can apply them to these (young victims)."
Holtan said the song, traditionally sung a capella or with an organ or piano accompaniment, also expresses peace.
"And I think that's what we're looking for, peace for our kids, peace for our country, peace for this violent madness," he said.
Molina said she expects some of her choir members, who range in age from 5 to 18, to take part in the Winterhaven event much as they did in a memorial after the January 2011 Tucson shootings.
"I try to teach the girls … that they have a voice and it's powerful and they have the power to heal people … that they could contribute to something greater in this crazy, crazy world," said Molina, the mother of three.
If you go
"Silent Night" memorial for the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims begins at 5:24 p.m. Friday at the center island of Winterhaven, Christmas Avenue and Kleindale Road. Participants are asked to arrive no later than 5:15 and park on the outskirts of the Winterhaven neighborhood - bordered by East Prince Road, North Tucson Boulevard, North Country Club Boulevard and East Fort Lowell Road - and walk in. Bring a candle if you like.
Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at email@example.com or 573-4642.