For people in the U.S.A. who love any kind of music, the period from Thanksgiving to New Year’s can often jangle the ears’tis the season for déjà entendu all over again. The season’s hackneyed “sacred” music conspires with cutesy commercial smarm to make music lovers feel like assault victims. And unless you stay home with the curtains drawn and the TV off, there’s no escape.
But even if you’ve overdosed on Handel’s Messiah and Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker in years past, you do have some degree of choice when it comes to holiday concerts: There’s good stuff out thereprobably more than we know of.
Take, for instance, the Lipscomb Early Music Consort, performing Dec. 7 as part of a more-or-less weekly series of afternoon and evening concerts at Christ Church Cathedral downtown. The Early Music Consort is a select group of 19 musicians who use period instruments (winds, strings, brass, and percussion) as well as voices in performing a wide spectrum of music, mainly from the 14th to 16th centuries. Next Tuesday’s program lists music from Spain and from New Spain, including a song sung by Sephardic Jews as well as Christians; a Cornish hymn sung in Gaelic; a Sicilian bagpipe carol sung in Italian; and a carol from Asian Georgia sung in Russian. The Consort also does songs in Latin, German, and English.
Led by Dr. Gerald Moore, the ensemble recently performed in Montgomery, Ala., dressed in period costumes, as is its custom. In the Christ Church performance, the musicians will have the instruments, but not the doublets and hose. Nor will they offer chestnuts roasting on an open fire; instead, they’ll offer exotic sonorities in unfamiliar idioms that take us out of the cybermall and into ancient deep midwinter where people rejoice at the promise of renewal.
A couple days earlier, on Dec. 5, two equally worthwhile events will compete with each other. The first is a performance by the Concert Chorale of Nashville. This group, just into its second season, is a 28-voice ensemble founded and directed by Sherry Hill Kelly, leader for 15 years of the Belmont University Chorale. All the singers are veteran choristersincluding David Ford, whose robust basso presence was recently featured in Nashville Opera’s Madame Butterfly. Like a new athletic franchise, CCN (the joke is intentional) does not yet have the consistently accurate efficiency it aspires to. But the ensemble sings very well already and excites great expectations.
CCN is attracting encouraging financial support but nevertheless has to seek out friendly venues to sing in. In a performance a couple weeks ago at Hillsboro Presbyterian Church, the Chorale sang an ambitious and varied program impressively. It opened with a large, rich work by contemporary American composer Howard Hanson and closed with Aaron Copland’s Zion’s Walls, a big, bright, exuberant percussive setting of an old Shaker hymn. In between, the Chorale sang some William Byrd, Henry Purcell, G.F. Handel, and William Walton, as well as three songs by Stephen Foster arranged by Edward Fissinger. This ambitious new ensemble confirms again that there’s a lot of musical talent in Music City.
Sunday afternoon, you might get in some seasonal shopping at Rivergate Mall and then head to the St. Vianney Catholic Church in Gallatin to catch CCN’s Christmas concert. That program will include 18th-century composer Giovanni Pergolesis’ Magnificat and the contemporary American Daniel Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata, along with some holiday favorites. You might even want to skip the shopping.
If the drive to Gallatin is too far, you can make your way instead to St. George’s Episcopal Church for its third annual Festival of Lessons and Carols. Though taking its basic form from the traditional program broadcast each Christmas from Kings College Chapel in Cambridge, England, the St. George’s Festival is not a subservient colonialit has its own character. This year’s event begins with a jubilant processional anthem featuring members of the Epiphany Dance Company (directed by Grete Gryzwana Teague) dancing into the nave ahead of the fully choiring choir, assisted by a medieval hurdy gurdy and some small percussion instruments. (The dancers will be featured in other parts of the service as well.)
The Festival is structured around nine biblical readings that recapitulate the Bible story from Adam’s first disobedience through the prophetic foretellings of Messiah’s arrival to the birth of the child who, for Christians, fulfills those foretellings. Each reading, or “lesson,” is followed by one or more songs (including five congregational hymns) elaborating themes given in the readings. Nearly all the music is either written by contemporary composersincluding Carl Smith, a faculty member at the Blair Schoolor arranged by contemporary composers. The selections, in a variety of styles, come from various countries.
The musiclike the dancers, adventurous but not outréis delivered by an experienced 35-voice ensemble whose core consists of 16 professional singers, directed for nearly two decades by Wilma Jensen. The sound this choir produces is among the finest to be heard anywhere. They will not sing “Winter Wonderland,” but if they did, your ears would not jangle.
Editor’s note: Marcel Smith is a member of St. George’s Episcopal Church, where his wife is an organist.
Thank you for the write up. We greatly appreciate it! Hope we raise the funds…
Looks like he was a great Artist.......who left his Legacy behind for others to follow.....
Indianapolis (CA-35), not Indiana.
There were plenty of jumps and screams at the severed-head reveal at the Sunday night…
I just...this recap...why did I not know these were here until now?! 4 times on…