Cory James Gallagher and his sister, Amy, find inspiration in life’s small, poignant moments. Cory is a vocalist; Amy, a poet, and this night on the patio at Hoak’s Restaurant in Hamburg was one to relish. The lake was glassy; the sky was painted in pastel pinks.
Amy’s son, Azure Gallagher Michalak – a Renaissance man packaged in a long-limbed 18-year-old body – was with them. So was their friend Kim Parkinson.
The Gallaghers, natives of Lake View, were celebrating what they thought was the conclusion of their spring concerts, which meld Cory’s music and Amy’s spoken-word poetry and reflections. For the last four years, the Gallaghers have put on shows in churches and nursing homes.
Each concert focuses on a timely theme. Their latest series of shows was called “Spring Awakening,” inspired by friends suffering from grief and loss over the long winter.
“It’s healing for the people who’ve had these losses,” Amy said. After their concerts, the Gallaghers have heard from people who said the music, poetry and reflections remind them of their childhood, or of an early romance, or of a time when their children were young.
That’s why the brother and sister consider their concerts to be more than a soulful way of making money. For them, performing is a missionary work, a way to impact lives.
On this evening at Hoak’s, Cory and Amy thought they had performed their last concert in Buffalo for a while. Amy and Azure would soon head back to their home in Canada. And so they enjoyed the serenity of the evening. Amy remarked that atmosphere felt like a “womb-like space … so calm and enveloping.”
But then the wind struck. It was one of those hard, howling winds that hurtle across the lake and slam into the shore.
By morning, Amy and Azure were no longer packing for their flight to Canada. In the midst of a thunderstorm, after a dream and a message they can’t quite explain but will instinctively follow, the Gallaghers were working fast to pull together one final spring concert. The show will take place at 7:30 p.m. Friday in Holy Family Church at 1885 South Park Ave., in South Buffalo.
Sibling “soul mates”
Amy, 38, and Cory, 36, were born two years and three days apart. They view life differently – more introspectively – than most people.
“We’ve always called each other ‘soul mates,’ ” Amy said. “We’ve always had that kind of close relationship, since childhood.”
“Almost like twins,” Cory said. “We’re both Pisces, and on the same wavelength about pretty much everything.”
Growing up, Amy was a quiet girl who filled her notebooks with reflections and poetry that helped her process the world. Cory played the piano; at the urging of his piano teacher, Debbie Bello, he began singing around the time he graduated from Frontier Central High School.
Amy, whose inky-black, shoulder-length hair frames a face with a soft smile, took a deeply spiritual, reflective path in life. After graduating Frontier in 1994, she interned for the then-local Holistic Health Journal, eventually working her way up to the job of managing editor.
Her pregnancy was unexpected. At 20, she gave birth to Azure at home, with the aid of a midwife and her family surrounding her. In her late 20s, Amy moved to Edmonton with Azure to study philosophy and spirituality and earn a degree in business. She remains based there today, working as a writer, poet and freelance editor, and frequently returns to Buffalo with Azure.
Cory took a creative path, too, albeit one quite different from that of his sister, who doesn’t sing or play music. Remaining rooted in Buffalo, Cory built a career as a church music director, recording artist (he has four CDs of inspirational music) and vocalist-for-hire. He’s the music director for Our Lady of Charity, which encompasses Holy Family and St. Ambrose churches in South Buffalo. With thick, slickly coiffed dark hair, a trim beard and a warm tenor voice, Cory is a comforting presence. In a typical week, he performs at several weddings, funerals and other events around the area.
“I’ve never had a normal job,” Corey said earlier this week, sitting with his sister and nephew in Holy Family’s wooden pews.
Amy’s soft laugh echoed off the white marble of the altar behind her. “He is blessed,” she said.
Cory nodded. “I’ve never had a Tops job, or McDonald’s, or lawn service or anything.”
‘You brought me home’
The Gallaghers’ maternal grandmother, Helen Grek, had always been proud of her grandson’s singing and her granddaughter’s writing. When she passed away in December 2011, Cory wanted to stage a memorial concert – “not a memorial service, but an actual concert,” he said – in her honor. He asked Amy to read some poetry at the concert, which took place just nine days after Helen’s death. “We work like that,” Amy said. “We work on a different level.”
Performing together was a powerful experience for the Gallaghers, who found that the blend of Cory’s music and Amy’s poetry and reflections resonated deeply with their audience. “We both share the exact same vision of what we want to touch and evoke in people,” Amy said. “It’s amazing how magically it flows together.”
After the show in their grandmother’s honor, the Gallaghers continued to perform (or “share,” as they prefer to say.
Though many of their concerts are held in Catholic churches, the messages aren’t based in any particular religion. Depending on the venue, they bring in a lighting director, other vocalists and musicians. Azure plays a 26-string harp his uncle bought him . Amy writes original poetry for every show, and shares it with no one – not even her brother – in advance. “So it is always a surprise,” Cory said. “Oftentimes I am moved to tears when she shares.”
During a recent concert in Erie County Medical Center’s long-term care facility, Cory’s eyes welled with tears when he looked up from the piano to see the residents gazing at his sister, mesmerized as she read a poem about deep introspection:
If I could peer deep into your soul,
I would see the face of your precious child,
Untouched by the lines of life.
Happy and glowing.
Running playful and free.
After the show, Cory, Amy and Azure spoke with each resident. A frail African-American woman sitting in her wheelchair in a corner of the room clasped Amy’s hands. “Honey, that was the most beautiful poetry I ever heard,” she said in a Georgia drawl. “You took me home. I went back to my childhood. Back to my childhood home. Back to my husband, my kids. My whole life. Thank you. You brought me home.”
Crying, the woman asked Amy for the poetry. She didn’t know that Amy never gives her poetry away (though she is considering publishing it in a book). On that day Amy made an exception. “Here you are,” she said, handling the woman her handwritten pages. “You can have my copy.”
“Am I crazy?”
Moments like that are signs for the Gallaghers, signs that are more important than mere numbers.
“We work from the heart,” Amy said. “We follow intuition. We follow impulses and – ”
Cory jumps in: “Little signs and signals.”
Their concerts, which they front the money to stage, have no set admission price. Audience members donate as they please. The results have been good – 300 people filled the pews of St. Ambrose late last year for a Christmas concert – but the feedback with the biggest impact comes in subtler forms: In the words of an elderly Southern woman, for example.
Or in that thunderstorm that forced the Gallaghers’ celebratory dinner inside Hoak’s and, as Cory recalled, “brought a whole new energy to the night.”
That evening, Cory’s sleep was interrupted in the middle of the night, when he awoke suddenly with a clear realization: We’re doing one more concert – in South Buffalo. “I’m tossing and turning the whole night, half asleep, half awake,” Cory said, “thinking, ‘Oh my God, one more concert, one more concert.’ ”
Doing one more spring concert wouldn’t be simple: Amy and Azure were leaving in four days for Edmonton. But at around 6 a.m., Cory picked up his cellphone and sent a Facebook message to his sister, who was still sleeping at the home where she and Azure stay in Buffalo.“Amy,” he wrote, “I got a clear vision in the night that we are meant to do one more concert. In South Buffalo. Am I crazy? lol”
Amy didn’t think her brother was crazy. Remember, they operate on signs – and Amy had received one, too. At the same time her brother was thinking about a second concert, Amy awoke to the sound in her head of Cory singing “Ave Maria.” “As clear as day, I heard his singing, and it felt so heavenly and elevated and beautiful,” she said. “I just heard it all night and I felt this warmth and peace.”
Amy decided to stay. That morning, the Gallaghers booked Holy Family and the musicians and scheduled ads in church bulletins. The show was set.
Or, as Amy put it, “The winds of change struck.”