Community Music

Two member organizations of the Community Music Project performed at Christ First United Methodist Church on Sunday afternoon with a concert which they called ”A Celebration of Life: A Memorial Concert.”

Performing were members of the Chautauqua Chamber Singers, under the leadership of Rebecca Ryan, and the Jamestown Choral Society, directed by Cindy Lind Hanson.

The singers have established a tradition of such a concert each November. While pensive thought and mourning are a natural part of remembering the departing, this year’s concert was more energetic and upbeat, celebrating rather than mourning the departed. Both sacred and secular works were performed.

The program began and ended with works sung jointly by the two ensembles, with the Choral Society singing a group of six songs, and then the Chamber Singers performing a group of five songs in the center.

The concert was performed without intermission, and ended almost exactly one hour after it began. A strong positive for the concert was the quick and efficient way in which an ensemble which had concluded its performance left the stage while the next group replaced them, and the program progressed.

Most of the works by both groups were accompanied on piano by Susan Huther. Violinist Kirstie Hanson participated on several works. The performance concluded with an Antiphon from ”Five Mystical Songs,” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, performed by the two ensembles together and accompanied by Cindy Lind Hanson on the church’s mighty pipe organ.

Local music lovers filled the large church, nearly to capacity for the concert, which was very well prepared, as we have come to expect. Both ensembles were attentive and responsive to their conductors, and their performances were well-balanced with the accompaniment.

The Choral Society’s selections included several arrangements of melodies from spirituals. A most impressive choice was a song composed by their conductor, and setting a poem by the Rev. Dr. J.A. Ross Mackenzie, an Episcopal priest once associated with St. Luke’s Church, in Jamestown, and a former Chaplain of the Chautauqua Institution. That work was called ”A Prayer Incomplete Without the Dance … or the Song,” and it expresses the speaker’s yearning for God and his offering of himself to God, for whatever service is needed.

The Choral Society performed under a slight disadvantage, in that among the singers who chose to participate in Sunday’s concert, women outnumbered men by a ration of four to one. The result was that male voices needed to perform at a much higher level of dynamics to balance the many excellent women, and yet while that was evident, it was not unpleasant or forced.

The Chamber Singers performed a number of works which were new to local audiences. I especially enjoyed a work called ”Northern Lights,” by Ola Gjeilo, which they performed in clearly enunciated Latin. The work had unusual and beautiful harmonies which seemed to emphasize those singing the lowest pitches among the women and the higher pitches among the men.

My personal favorite was ”The Eyes of all Wait Upon Thee,” by my former teacher, Jean Berger, which was extremely complex, and was very well performed.

We are, indeed fortunate to have two such fine singing groups in our community. The next concert by the Chamber Singers will be their annual ”Twelfth Night” program Jan. 10 at First Presbyterian Church. The next concert by the Choral Society will be titled ”All Nature Sings,” and it will be performed at Christ First United Methodist Church on March 30.