The Chapel Hill Community Chorus is the fourth or fifth concert by a community chorus I have reviewed in the past month. These generous people from all walks of life are part of a grand tradition that stretches back to the great singing clubs in Germany in the mid-19th century and the outstanding Welsh choirs of the early 20th century. Today there are community choruses in practically every corner of the earth. They sing for the love of singing, the joy of uniting vocal skill in a joint endeavor and the thrill of learning music of great composers from the inside out. They provide pleasant evenings or afternoons for audiences everywhere, often thrilling us with familiar favorites and frequently introducing us to new tunes and harmonies that connect with all those unspoken feelings that words alone cannot fully express. All hail, I say, all hail to the rich treasure to be mined in our wonderful community choruses.
This program at Memorial Hall on the UNC campus and led by conductor Sue Klausmeyer was titled “A Festival of Carols.” The festival was celebrated in the variety of music including the addition of instruments from guitar, harp and marimba to drums and brass and more. The selections were Hispanic, English, French, Appalachian, German and African.
The program opened with ten selections from Carols and Lullabies: Christmas in the Southwest as arranged by noted American composer Conrad Susa. They were done with guitar, harp and marimba and captured the charm, joy and love of life that is the spirit of this time of year in Spanish language carols. Of special note was the Puerto Rican carol “Allegria” sung beautifully by Bill Kodros and Chris Newlon. It captured the essence and lilt of Spanish gusto. The Catalonian “El Noi de la Mare” featured Katherine Farless, Kate Hurley, Pamela Stewart, Chris Newlon and Scott Goodwin. Laura Smithburg Byrne added class and ethereal atmosphere with the harp. Joseph Pecoraro provided the essential guitar that provides flavor to all Spanish music. The rhythmic and mellow marimba was played by Leslie Webster. It was a delightfully pleasant opening to a fine evening.
Contemporary arrangements of more familiar English, French and Appalachian Carols filled out the remainder of the first half of the program.
The second half of the concert began with “Antiphonal Noel” by the 17th century German master, Samuel Scheidt and arranged by Patrick M. Liebergen. The addition of brass raised the celebration to another level. The audience sang along in special arrangements of “Joy to the World!” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
Another memorable performance was by the men’s chorus with Newlon singing the solo. “Betelhemu” by Via Olatunji and arranged by the noted African-American composer Wendell Whalum is a heartful Nigerian carol with energetic rhythm and sung in the Yoruba dialect. The men were joined by an array of drummers and other percussionists, and even though there was a little uncertainty in the singing, the rendition was truly stirring.
The program ended with a rollicking performance of “Jingle Bells”, composed by J. Pierpoint and arranged by David Wilcocks. Most of the instrumentalists joined in including the whip which is actually not a whip, but two flat boards which, when slapped together, sound exactly like the crack of a whip. It made one almost wish to walk out into a winter wonderland, but alas that could not be arranged.
“A Festival of Carols” was a pleasant and interesting diversion. Again I say all hail to the Chapel Hill Community Chorus, their instrumental guest artists and their conductor, Sue Klausmeyer.