Q: What was Grief?

Grief was a bilingual choral performance by The Holy Gasp which premiered on July 1st, 2020, via live stream from the basement of The Historic Kiever Synagogue in Toronto’s Kensington Market. The piece was written for 10 vocalists, 2 pianists, and 2 percussionists, and was intended to fabricate a communal mourning ritual for anyone who had suffered the sorrows of losing a loved one. It was performed ceaselessly for 9.5 hours, from sunset to sunrise. Prior to the performance, the public was invited to submit the names and memories of their deceased loved ones into our Database of the Dead. Those names were then entered letter by letter into a series of large scroll by Rochelle Rubinstein, from which Benjamin Hackman read throughout the entirety of the night. All in all, 17,000 names of the dead were recited.

Q: I’m sad to say that I missed Grief. Where can I watch the performance?

We’re sad you missed it, too. And if you’ve got 9.5 hours to spend, you can watch Grief in its entirety right here.

Q: What will happen to The Database of the Dead now that Grief has been performed?

We have decided to leave The Database of the Dead up on our website indefinitely, as a gesture to all those who grieve.

Q: Can I still enter names into The Database of the Dead?

Yes. You can still enter names. Please do.

Q: Can I enter a name into The Database of the Dead of a person I’ve never met, but whose life has had a significant impact on me, such as a celebrity?

If the loss of a celebrity you’ve never met has indeed caused you to grieve, then please do enter their name. We do ask, however, that you enter names with sincerity. People come to the Database to mourn and reflect. We ask that you participate in a respectful manner, for everyone’s sake. Thank you.

Q: Can I include the names of deceased pets?

Anyone who has done a close reading of The Holy Gasp’s lyrics will see that we are indeed animal lovers. That being said, we kindly ask that you limit your entries to human loved ones only.

Q: Is there a limit to how many names I can enter into the Database of the Dead?

None whatsoever! Do not be shy to take up space in the Database of the Dead with the names of those who have impacted your life.

Q: I’d like to support the ongoing preservation of The Database of the Dead. How can I make a donation, and are there any other ways that I can help?

Thank you so much for your generous spirit. Here are some great ways you can help with preservation of The Database of the Dead, and general creative activities by The Holy Gasp.

  1. Secure donations can be made through our PayPal.
  2. Cheques can be mailed to The Holy Gasp/ 200-21 Nassau St./ Toronto, Ontario/ M5T 3K6 CANADA
  3. Merchandise can be purchased from our online shop. All sales revenue goes towards supporting the ongoing activities of The Holy Gasp. If you would like to save on shipping, and are able to pick up your order in Kensington Market, please do feel free to contact us at TheHolyGasp@gmail.com to arrange for this.
  4. If you would like to discuss sponsorship opportunities, in-kind donations, or the purchasing of ad space in our print programs, we would be ver happy to discuss this with you. Please email us at TheHolyGasp@gmail.com.

Q: How can I see if a name has already been entered into the Database of the Dead? What if I enter the same name as someone else?

We recognize that many people are born, coincidentally, with the same name as others. The About The Dead section in the Database of the Dead has been included specifically to help prevent the same person from being entered more than once. We want to give you the best chance of figuring out whether a name which has already appeared is due to a shared name, or because it is the same person.

Before you enter a name into the Database of the Dead, please search the database to see if that name has already been entered. Let’s say, for example, that you would like to enter the name of your aunt, Sally Waxner. You search the database for Sally Waxner and discover that the name has already been entered, but in the About The Dead section, you read that Sally Waxner was beloved for her famous coconut macaroons. Well… your Sally Waxner, as everyone knew, despised coconut. It would then stand to reason that the two Sally Waxners are indeed different, and that you should enter your own Sally Waxner, making note of her strong distaste for coconut.

Q: What if the dead went by a nickname, or a name not assigned to them at birth? Or what if they have a name specific to their culture or religion, but which they are not commonly known? How should I enter their name into the Database of the Dead? And which names should I enter?

Here are two ways you may chose to creatively respond to this problem:

Add nicknames in quotation marks, such as: Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong or “Iron” Mike Tyson.  

For names of cultural or religious significance, you may also include an AKA (also known as) at the end of the name, such as: Moishe Myer ben Joseph haLevi Hackman, AKA: Morris Hackman.

If in doubt, try your best to enter the name by which people were known most commonly, make a note in the About the Dead section, and trust your instincts.

Q: Should I try and watch the entire 9.5-hour performance of Grief?

To be honest, you are encouraged to try. You are also encouraged to make decisions about your participation that best reflect what is meaningful and authentic to you. Grief was, by design, intended to be difficult. Very difficult. Just as grief itself is. See what it’s like to watch more than what feels comfortable. And regardless of how much or how little of the performance you decide to watch, please write to us to let us know how the piece affected you. We are always happy hear from our audience:

The Holy Gasp
200-21 Nassau St.
Toronto, ON.

Q: Is Grief appropriate for children?

The Holy Gasp subscribes to the principle that if a child is old enough to ask about something, she or he is old enough to discuss it. In the words of the great Mr. Rogers: If it’s mentionable, it’s manageable.” Many children, sadly, are forced to grieve, and those who have not yet grieved, will indeed be required to do so one day. As it is written in the Book of Ecclesiastes: “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to a house of merriment, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.” Parent your children as you see fit, and if your child does watch all or part of Grief, please do encourage them to write to us and share their experience. We’d love to hear from them: TheHolyGasp@gmail.com.

  • Kiever Shul
  • Paul Hahn and Co.
  • SoCan Foundation
  • Canada Council for the Arts
  • Ontario Arts Council