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A very large audience desiring to hear some inspiring Christmas music made the sanctuary of St. Matthias Episcopal Church ring with applause, quite frequent cheers and a few amens in response to the program of seasonal songs which the Reynolds-Miller Chorale and the St. Matthias String Quartet presented.
The 18-member Chorale, accompanied by pianist Bobbette Mays and organist Mary H. Dawkins, and ably conducted by Trevor S. Chavis, presented a group of generally well-performed pieces, most of which were quite familiar to the audience. This Chorale does not pretend to have the skills and superb training of a Robert Shaw Chorale or even an Asheville Symphony Chorus. What it does have is a deep love for choral singing and a strong belief in the great truths about which it sings. Throughout each of its selections the Chorale showed good basic musical discipline and great reverence for the texts it sang. Although there was a number of technical issues in some pieces — pitch fluctuations and ragged breathing in particular — all the singers gave their best efforts, and no one, including this critic, will pick them to pieces for performance imperfections.
The opening piece, the well-known “Eternal Life,” a choral arrangement of the prayer of St. Francis of Assisi, gave the audience the opportunity to enjoy the fine choral sound this group can produce. The following offering, Mozart's ”Ave Verum Corpus,” revealed that the composer's vocal lines and classical harmony, especially the chromaticism in several lines moving toward the conclusion, gave every singer intonation problems which threatened to pull them out of the proper key. But their musical ears brought them back to the right place. The next two numbers, “This Day” and “Day and Night Praise,” gave the Chorale a chance to sing reverently and, at the conclusion of both, bring smiles of appreciation to its listeners with room-rattling forte chords. In “This Day,” soprano Kim Parks and alto Laura Frazer revealed lovely solo voices, their only problem being nervousness which they sang through with courage and musical intelligence. Alto soloist Robin Young showed that she too has a fine voice that contributed to the beauty and effectiveness of “Day and Night Praise.”
For the offertory, the St. Matthias String Quartet consisting of Nancy Jean Hunkins, first violin, Adelle Chappell, second violin, Lew Gelsand, viola, and Ron Lambe, cello played with admirable skill J. S. Bach's “Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring,” My only basic criticism of this concert is that I for one would have enjoyed a bit more participation by this quartet. It would have added a bit more balance to a fine concert.
The next group of choral arrangements were more well-known to the audience than the earlier pieces. Particularly was this true of the well-known “Do You Hear What I Hear,” and the rocking spiritual “Elijah Rock.” The audience was not supposed to join the Chorale in singing at this point, but a few enthusiastic listeners did, very quietly. These pieces were performed quite well and deserved the loud applause and shouts of approval which greeted them. The famous Lithuanian carol “Ring, Christmas Bells,” with its crisp rhythms and fast-moving, exciting melodies was one of the Chorale's best performances.
To bring the concert to a powerful conclusion, the Chorale's conductor invited the audience to join all the musicians singing the perennial favorites, “Go, Tell It On the Mountain,” “Let There Be Peace On Earth,” and Handel's “Hallelujah Chorus.” All the people in the church, including yours truly, sang with every bit of Christmas spirit and gusto they could muster. There was indeed a lot of both.