First, a string quartet playing Silent Night. Four sopranos, each with two youth singers in tow, deploy to the four corners of the sanctuary of the Presbyterian Church of Chestertown; as the strings segue into Angels We Have Heard on High, their voices surround the audience in song.
Then the rest of the 95-member Chester River Chorale march in singing Personent Hodie, a Christmas carol dating back to Medieval days, as the 20th annual presentation of A Chester River Holliday begins, once again celebrating the season of jubilation, good will, and awe with songs of reverence, remembrance, and hope for peace.
For the sixth year in a row, the Chester River Youth Choir will join in the celebration for the two performances: Friday, November 30 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, December 1 at 4 p.m.
“There’s something for everybody in this program,” said Douglas Cox, the Chorale’s artistic director. He called programming the annual holiday season concert “one of my favorite things to do because of the many musical possibilities it offers.”
The string quarter, a double bass, an oboe, a harp, a flute, percussion, Chorale accompanist Sammy Marshall on piano, and Chorale soprano Stephanie King on organ will back the singers on many of the pieces. However, the full Chorale will perform one song a cappella and the Chester Chamber Singers, an auditioned subset of the Chorale, will perform their full set without instrumental backing as well.
The first portion of the program will feature the full Chorale singing two pieces by American composers. The first, Alfred Burt’s Christmas Greetings, will be followed by Rosephanye Powell’s The Word Was God, the a cappella piece that weaves a spell using repetitions of the first three verses of the Gospel of John which begins: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.”
Artistic Director Douglas Cox will then yield the baton to Assistant Director and Chorale soprano Michelle Sensenig for excerpts from an almost 300-year-old Bach cantata, Das neugeborne Kindelein, sung in German, and The Ground, a modern piece sung in Latin that ends in a prayer for peace.
The Chorale will invite the Chester River Youth Choir to the stage with Come Dear Children, another Burt carol. Together, the Chorale and Youth Choir will sing Canticle of the Turning. As the Chorale exits, leaving the stage to the children, the audience will be asked to sing along with It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year.
Youth Choir founder and Chorale soprano Julie Lawrence will direct her young performers in a two-song set: Winter Waking, a secular reflection on the beauty of the season, and Tiny Little Baby Born in Bethlehem, an upbeat song with the feel of a spiritual. Then Cox will direct the children and the Chamber Singers in Al Hanissim, a traditional Hanukkah song.
The Chamber Singers will then sing a tribute to the Virgin Mary with diverse songs that range from a late Renaissance Ave Maria to the 20th Century Calypso Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy. The set includes a 20th Century version of the haunting 16th Century German carol Lo How a Rose E’er Blooming.
The full Chorale will then return, leading the audience in another popular sing-along Silver Bells. Then they will cap the program with the uplifting Carol of Joy followed by a brisk and triumphant Hallelujah Chorus.
Suggested donations at the door are $15. No tickets will be sold. The Chorale has performed to full houses for the past several years, so patrons are urged to come at least 15 minutes early to be assured of being seated. The doors will open approximately 30 minutes prior to each performance.
Chorale members are amateur singers drawn primarily from Kent and Queen Anne’s counties. If you love to sing, come join us in January and be a part of our 20th anniversary season. The Chorale rehearses on Monday evenings, beginning January 14. No audition is required.
The Chester River Chorale is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization funded in part by the Kent County Arts Council and by an operating grant from the Maryland State Arts Council, an agency dedicated to cultivating a vibrant cultural community where the arts thrive.
The CRC’s mission is to provide opportunity, education, and inspiration for amateur singers to strive for artistic excellence. CRC performances entertain diverse audiences and enrich the cultural life of the community. For more information, visit www.chesterriverchorale.org or call 410–928-5566.