Two local choral groups are capping off 2019 with two reasons to celebrate: the holiday season, and the end of their 40th year offering audiences live music performance.
The Greater Keene Pops Choir and The Keene Chorale, both established in 1979, will present holiday concerts in December: The Pops Choir’s “A December to Remember” on Dec. 1 at The Colonial Theatre; and The Keene Chorale’s performance of “The Childhood of Christ” on Dec. 8 at St. Bernard Church.
Both groups were founded to invite absolutely anyone — without an audition — to sing. The Pops Choir’s focus has always been the many styles of popular American music and the Chorale’s, master works.
This holiday season is no different.
“There’s something for everyone,” said Pops Choir director, Diane Cushing.
This season’s concert program will feature a variety of festive pieces, including some that blend styles like the choral arrangement “Deck the Hall with Beethoven, Bach and Brahms.”
“It’s classical with some funk on it,” she said. Another classically rooted piece, “Jingle Bells Rondo,” places music by Mozart in a frame of the beloved Christmas carol.
Contemporary pieces like “Mary Did you Know?” by Pentatonix are also on the list, along with a rendition of the classic “Joy to the World” arranged by Pinkzebra and “Counting Down to Christmas” from the musical, “A Christmas Story.”
The concert is rounded out with such selections as the Hanukkah piece, “Eight Days of Lights” and “Yes, Virginia there’s a Santa Claus” featuring a fun surprise. Instrumental accompaniment will be provided by Walt Sayre on piano, Steve Cady on Bass, Mike Rousseau on percussion and guest performers playing glockenspiel and tenor saxophone.
Cushing doesn’t usually work with an overarching concept when planning her concert program.
“I come up with a list I really like that’s both fun and challenging, I gather pieces and come up with a theme from that,” she said.
The Keene Chorale will perform one piece during its 41st holiday season, “L’Enfance du Christ (The Childhood of Christ) — A Sacred Drama,” an oratorio by Hector Berlioz.
Sung in English and directed by Maestro Cailin Marcel Manson, the piece, written in 1854, re-tells the story of the holy family as they flee the murderous jealousy of King Herod, suffer severe hardship in their travel and, upon arriving in Egypt exhausted and near death, feel the sting of being turned away — despised as a “vagabond and homeless kind.” They find compassion in the home of an Ishmaelite who summons his household to tend to the weary and frightened family.
Manson chose the piece because his artistic goal is to seek out and explore lesser-known masterpieces. He has seen arts organizations struggle in recent years and believes it’s necessary to engage the community to ensure longevity of a group like The Keene Chorale.
While the story is dark, it’s also meant to be human and the story of marginalized people and the choices we make to be either kind or uncaring is pertinent in today’s political and social climate. Herod chose to preserve his power out of fear and realizes he wishes he had taken in the family himself.
In this expansive work for chorus, orchestra and soloists, The Keene Chorale will be joined by the PanOpera Orchestra of Northampton, Mass., and guest soloists — mezzo-soprano Jazimina MacNeil, bass-baritone Rocky Sellers, baritone Nicholas Tocci and tenor Joshua Collier.
Manson’s aim in performing this piece is to stretch the chorus’ boundaries and highlight the talents of musicians in the region as well as expand the circle of artists with which the Chorale works.
The Keene Chorale’s performance will be pared down from the original score. Keene Chorale president, Kate Rantilla, said this was done to allow for better flow of the story.
“Also, the chorus is highlighted this way,” she said, adding that the moving piece has brought tears to the eyes of singers during rehearsals.
While Manson peppers in historical facts and music theory concepts during rehearsal, seeing his role as helping musicians understand the music they are performing, it’s different in front of the audience.
“He teaches but he does it with the music,” said Rantilla, adding that the goal of the Chorale is to break boundaries.
“We are very much open to everyone,” she said. “We have people in the group who have never sung in a chorus. Other members help and guide them through.”
One thing all members share is a passion for music.
“They love singing and they love working with Cailin,” she said.
The Greater Keene Pops Choir holiday concert, “A December to Remember,” is Sunday, Dec. 1, at 3 p.m. at The Colonial Theatre, 95 Main St., Keene. Tickets are $12 in advance from Pops Choir members, otherwise they are $15 and are available by calling 352-2033 or at thecolonial.org.
The Keene Chorale performance of “L’Enfance du Christ — A Sacred Drama” is Sunday, Dec. 8, at 2 p.m. at St. Bernard Church, 185 Main St., Keene. Tickets are $5-$20 and can be purchased at the Toadstool Bookshop at 12 Emerald St. in Keene, from a Keene Chorale member or at brownpapertickets.com.