Marta McCarthy accepts an award in Mosbach, Germany.
Marta McCarthy accepts an award on behalf of the U of G chamber choir in Mosbach, Germany.

She felt pulled to help children in a developing country. But she was also impelled by some inspiring words spoken a number of years ago by U of G president Alastair Summerlee.

Now, music professor Marta McCarthy hopes Summerlee — and an expected capacity audience — will be moved in turn during a tribute concert on April 5 for Guelph’s seventh president, who will step down this summer after an 11-year term.

“Music for Peace” will feature the U of G Symphonic Choir and Chamber Singers under McCarthy’s direction, along with the Guelph Chamber Players Orchestra and accompanist Betty Maher.

The second half of the evening program will feature The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace by Welsh composer Karl Jenkins. Commissioned by Britain’s Royal Armouries to mark the millennium and dedicated to the victims of the Kosovo war of the late 1990s, the work was premiered in London in 2000.

McCarthy, School of Fine Art and Music, says the piece resonates during the centennial of the beginning of the First World War. More generally, she says, in this work “he’s struggling with the human condition without finding simplistic answers or just saying, ‘Why don’t we just all be friends?’”

Set within the framework of the Christian mass, The Armed Man contains sacred and secular texts.

Adds McCarthy: “This piece to me seems to be teaching us humane values by leading us through war. There are no easy answers, but the idea is that peace is what we are aiming for.”

That notion brings the work home for McCarthy, who remembers hearing Summerlee say early in his term that “a university should be about humane values.”

During his presidency, Summerlee promoted international development projects such as campaigns to build an AIDS clinic in Lesotho and to improve education for occupants of refugee camps in Kenya.

During a series of President’s Dialogues begun in 2006, international experts visited Guelph to discuss contemporary issues from global citizenship and human rights to climate change and world hunger.

Summerlee helped bring the sixth annual international Universities Fighting World Hunger summit to Guelph in 2011, the first time the event was held in Canada.

Says McCarthy, “He’s helped us become known around the world as people who stand for community in the big sense, that we each need to step up to the plate.”

That’s what took her to the Dominican Republic for the first time last November – along with bags full of food, shoes and other staples.

Over 10 days, she taught music to underprivileged children and met with humanitarian aid organizations.

“I always wanted to do it,” she says, explaining that she went looking to learn from the experience as well.

McCarthy bought a washing machine made in the Dominican Republic to support local business and donated it to an orphanage. Until then, two people had done laundry by hand for dozens of children.

One day a beach party was held for the orphanage kids. “I never had such a good time in my life. I saw 42 children dashing in and out of the water. It makes you a kid again.”

She plans to return next year with choir members during reading week. “I’ve got the next beach party planned.”

Speaking about the Jenkins work planned for the tribute concert , McCarthy says, “I can’t say whether Alastair will love the piece, but I do hope he will be moved by it — and the whole audience will be moved by it — and that Alastair will feel it’s an expression of things he cares about.”

The musical tribute will take place April 5 at 7 p.m. at St. George’s Anglican Church downtown. For tickets and information, contact Vicki Isotamm at 519-824-4120, Ext. 52991, or