Quick Take:

Christian Grube knows war and its costs. Now, the Santa Cruz Chorale director leads a special performance for relief aid. “We spent many hours in the basement, which is not a place people should be,” he says of his World War II experience.

In the days following the Russian invasion of Ukraine in late February, Christian Grube and his wife, Karen, decided to unplug from the news unfolding on TV. The coverage of the unfolding tragedy made them feel, like many of us, helpless. For Christian Grube, it also brought back deeply seated memories of war.


The artistic director of the Santa Cruz Chorale spent his earliest years in northern Germany, during the last years of World War II. He was a 11-year-old boy when Allied forces liberated Germany from Nazi rule.

“We spent many hours in the basement, which is not a place people should be,” said Grube, remembering enduring bombing raids as a child. Later, he lived for many years in divided Berlin, in the shadow of the Iron Curtain. The news coming out of Ukraine tapped into his deep reservoirs of Cold War anxiety. Plus, the Grubes count many friends throughout Eastern Europe, uncomfortably close to the conflict.

Consequently, Grube could not just turn off the news and forget about Ukraine. He felt motivated to take action. So he did something directors of musical organizations almost never do: He decided to program a concert on the fly, without the weeks, even months of planning such concerts usually entail.

The result is what Grube and his chorus hope is an inspiring moment for locals to express their anguish and hope. On March 27, the 40-voice Santa Cruz Chorale will perform a concert at Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz to honor the Ukrainian people and to promote and uphold peace in the region and the world. The concert will be a benefit for Ukraine relief.

A peace sign in the yellow and blue of Ukraine stands near the clock tower in downtown Santa Cruz


How to help

Lookout is compiling a running list of efforts around Santa Cruz County to help those affected by Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Please let us know if we’ve missed anything by emailing us here.

Ongoing: Capitola’s Sante Adairius Rustic Ales has released an IPA called Platform 4, with proceeds from sales going to World Central Kitchen, a nonprofit helping to feed Ukrainian refugees throughout the region. Platform 4 is available at both its Santa Cruz and Capitola locations. Follow Sante Adairius here for updates.

Ongoing: Pacific Cookie Company is selling a tower of a dozen cookies in the blue and yellow colors of Ukraine, with proceeds going to World Central Kitchen. Available at its Pacific Avenue store and online; details here.

Ongoing: Santa Cruz’s Sugar Bakery is donating proceeds from sales of its signature macarons to Ukraine relief. Follow here for details and updates.

Ongoing: Santa Cruz’s Temple Beth El is encouraging community members to donate to the Ukraine Crisis Fund from the World Union for Progressive Judaism. Details here.

Ongoing: Links to charitable organizations operating in and around Ukraine from the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County.

Oct. 3: Ukrainian quartet DakhaBrakha will perform at downtown Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa Jazz Center, with net proceeds going to Ukraine relief fund Come Back Alive. Details here.

TBA: San Lorenzo Valley native chef Jessica Yarr has a pair of fundraisers in the works: a weekly soup pre-order, with 10% of proceeds going to the nonprofit Voices of Children Foundation, and an April fundraiser with baker Jennifer Latham, formerly of San Francisco’s famed Tartine Bakery. Sign up for Yarr’s newsletter here for more information, and follow her Eastern Europe-focused pop-up Chickenfoot here. Yarr raised $2,400 for nonprofit Sunflower of Peace with an event the first weekend of March.

The chorale had already planned for a concert to take place in May featuring the music of J.S. Bach and Schubert. But Grube felt his choir needed to act more immediately.

“What we can do is to do something practical, earn money for the children of Ukraine, by doing what we do best, which is singing,” he said. “I thought, well, we have a program in May, which is pretty demanding. But with a little more effort, I thought we could do another program, parallel to what we are working on right now. I decided that the pieces all have to do with peace and prayers for the needy.”

The concert will include Gregorian chants, selections from Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” oratorio, a prayer piece from Israeli composer Gil Aldema, the haunting “Agnus Dei” selection from 15th-century composer Josquin de Pres, Farrant’s “Call to Remembrance” and Faure’s “Cantique de Jean Racine.” There’s also an audience participation piece in which Grube plans to bring both his choir and his audience outside Holy Cross Church to sing in the open air. Admission to the concert will be by donations (those not able to attend can donate to the chorale in the name of the Ukraine fund). All funds raised will go to relief organization Save the Children.

“This concert has two sides,” said Grube. “One is the practical side, to raise a lot of money for Save the Children. But the other is that it helps our choir get through these times of COVID, and war. You need something to keep the group together. And that is singing.”

Santa Cruz Chorale director Christian Grube
Santa Cruz Chorale director Christian Grube’s experience growing up in war-torn Germany inspired him to create a concert program to honor the struggle of the people of Ukraine. Credit: Via Allen Papouban

The Ukraine benefit concert will be only the second concert from the chorale since the pandemic shutdown. For years, the chorale has performed sacred choral music, from medieval times to the modern day, for local audiences, with an emphasis on concerts during holidays. Grube, who once received Germany’s highest civilian honor for his work as a choir director, has directed the chorale since 2006.

Throughout 2020 and into 2021, in lieu of in-person rehearsals, Grube kept the choir together with a series of classes on music theory via Zoom. “The whole class stayed together during the Zoom meetings on music theory and history,” he said, “and that’s how our choir survived.”

The chorale had performed some of these pieces in the past. Others are new to the choir. Grube decided against performing the Ukrainian national anthem; “I didn’t feel too great about it,” he said. “I felt it was presumptuous for us to sing someone else’s national anthem.” But he credited his wife, Karen, with finding a paternoster (“Lord’s Prayer”) from the Ukrainian composer and priest who also wrote the hymn that later became the Ukrainian national anthem.

It’s not the first time Grube has programmed a choral concert on short notice. He served as a young choir director in Berlin in 1989 when the Berlin Wall fell. “There was a reunification service in the main church in Berlin,” he said, “and we were able to sing there. But that was a professional choir. With an amateur choir (such as the Santa Cruz Chorale), it’s a little harder. But it’s working fine. Everybody is enthusiastic about it. Everybody has spent the extra time to do it. And so, we are very much looking forward to it.”

The Santa Cruz Chorale will perform live at Holy Cross Church in Santa Cruz on Sunday, March 27. The concert begins at 4 p.m. It will be a benefit for Save the Children in the name of the children of Ukraine.

Wallace reports and writes not only across his familiar areas of deep interest — including arts, entertainment and culture — but also is chronicling for Lookout the challenges the people of Santa Cruz...