I am a fortunate fellow.
Now in my 21st season with the Augusta Choral Society, I can clearly see that the ensemble has navigated its way through several distinct phases, each with its own assets and liabilities. And although the current iteration does have both, it also has risen to the occasion famously twice this fall. Our "Hallow E'en" concert in October was, in my opinion, an artistic success, with the chorus wrestling with and conquering an interestingly challenging Puccini Messa. And then there was the distinctly differently Jabberwocky on the same bill. Polar opposites, but performed with equal aplomb.
This past Saturday night (12/14) the ACS undertook what I describe as a collage program: lots of different pieces (related by theme) with some "fluff" and "meat" and something in-between. The "meat" came with the Vaughan-Williams and Holst selections and the chorus met both of those meritoriously. The "fluff" was actually more demanding that was first thought, but the chorus also worked through those issues and delivered all selections with insight and inspiration.
More fortunately, perhaps, was that we were joined in our concert not only by the outstanding and uplifting Lyra Vivace Chamber Orchestra, but also by Palmetto Girls Sing from Greenwood, SC. Prepared and directed by Amy Fennell, these young women joined with the ACS for two selections and performed by themselves on a third. We were amazed and left breathless by their concert awareness and demeanor. Their angelic voices simply soared.
Further, our two soloists, who also sing frequently with the ACS, Laurie Orth and Sawyer Branham brought not only professional preparation and talent to the performance, but raised our bar of expectations for all other guest soloists. Augusta is so fortunate to have vocal musicians of their caliber in our midst.
One of the blessings and curses of music-making is that the final product is ephemeral: it's transitory, temporary, and intangible. It's a wisp of smoke and dissolves into the ether leaving us with the memory and, hopefully, with a lasting and noteworthy impression. That's the blessing. The curse is that, once performed, the smoke dissolves and it's time to move on to another musical challenge. Our next challenge begins in January as we begin our preparation of the Cherubini Requiem. Let's take what we learned about making music, singing together, and performing as we take up this next major work.
So, a success concert behind us and another challenge before us. I am a fortunate fellow.
I cannot remember a time when music was not a part of Christmas. In hindsight, it would seem that much of my love of music started with those pleasant December memories. There was always the sacred music at church in which I was involved, that on the radio and TV, and the ever-present music from the centrally located "stereo" at our home. On that, we would hear performances by Roger Wagner, Norman Luboff, Robert Shaw, and many others. I even remember a setting of Fum, Fum, Fum as performed by Tex Johnson and his Six-Shooters. Truly memorable. All those sounds fill my memories and replay on an infinite loop.
As a professional musician, I have been privileged to have opportunities to continue those Christmas musical experiences. Of course, it helps that most composers have been invested in providing music for the Advent/Christmas season and that much of that is pedagogically, historically, and vocally interesting, compelling, and edifying. So, for going on half-a-century, I have usually spent many weeks preparing each fall preparing for Christmas concerts. The was never a moment when it was not a joy.
But, and speaking as a music director who is charged with choosing repertoire, I am always looking for new perspectives from which to select music. Last year, the ACS was heavily invested in MESSIAH and, for 2019, we really wanted to compile a program that was different thematically, displayed some of our vocal talent, was intriguing to pursue vocally, and would be gratifying and thrilling to hear. Thus, we have selected some compelling carols, several obscure nuggets, extended works by well-known composers, and a selection or two just for fun - all under the umbrella of music (for Christmas) from English sources.
Come, and hear, and celebrate, and revel, and rejoice. It's our Christmas gift to you.