SHIRLEY --The eighth annual Shirley Meeting House Candlelight Vespers program, nearly a year in the making, was perhaps the most ambitious meetinghouse concert to date.
"Music and Traditions Around the World," presented on Sunday, Dec. 4, included a chorus of 19 vocalists from Shirley and the surrounding area as well as many other local performers.
The prelude of six musical pieces performed by flautist Laura Finkelstein, guitarist Sean Winkler, and percussionist Peter Elwyn, was a concert unto itself, with music from Italy, North Africa, England, Scotland, Korea, and the United States.
In his introduction, First Parish Meeting House Preservation Society President Robert Adam explained that the preservation society, a private nonprofit without taxpayer support, has been the steward of the building for over 60 years, and is dependent upon the public's tax-deductible support now more than ever.
He urged the public to support the building by becoming members of The Shirley Meeting House. He said the society is about to embark on a 2012 capital campaign to begin reconstruction and renovation of major parts of the building, which features beautiful acoustics, a Steven's tracker organ, and an Emerson baby grand piano.
A musical journey
Soprano Victoria Landry sang "Un Flambeau, Jeanette, Isabelle," a Christmas carol which originated from the Provence region of France in the 16th century. In the carol, visitors to the stable are told to keep their voices down so the newborn Christ child can slumber.
The Meeting House Chorale, under the direction of David McLeod and accompanied on piano by Elenye German, then took the audience to England, with "The Holly and the Ivy."
Chorus members were sopranos Marie Elwyn, Emilie Faucher, Heidi Garofalo, Holly Haase, Wendy Welton and Janice Yancy; altos Tessa German, Marsha Hoecker, Victoria Landry, Charline Oelfke, Jodie Rachman, and Katy Schraven; tenors Lou Garofalo, Robert Huxley, and Andy Sullivan; and, bass singers Peter Elwyn, Felix Legere, John Oelfke, and Paul Przybyla.
Kevin Johnston, who read "The Kerry Christmas Carol," by Irish poet Sigerson Clifford, explained that many Irish Christmas customs have their root in the time when the Gaelic culture and religion of the country were being suppressed. The placing of a lighted candle in the window of a house on Christmas Eve, which indicated a safe place for priests to say Mass and as a symbol of welcome to Mary and Joseph, is still practiced today.
A further element of the tradition, said Johnston, is that the candle should be lit by the youngest member of the household, and only be extinguished by a girl bearing the name Mary.
"A Rune of Hospitality," a duet for flute and guitar based upon David Solomons' "Crofter's song," was elegantly performed by Finkelstein and Winkler.
Dina Samfield and her son Dana Maloney sang a Hebrew Hanukkah blessing as they lit their family menorah, and James Quinty described and read the lyrics to "Good King Wenceslas," a popular English Christmas carol.
Paul Przybyla sang the Polish carol "Wród Nocnej Ciszy," or "In the Silence of the Night," and Holly Haase, accompanied by Finkelstein on flute, sang "Gesú Bambino" by Pietro Yon. Haase said that Yon, an Italian-born organist who made his career in the U.S. in the early 20th century, was rumored to have written the piece on the back of an envelope while on his way to work at Saint Patrick's Cathedral in New York City.
Music fills the air
Children's choir members Rebecca King, Lila McDougall, Riley Moore, Wren West, and Willow West, under the direction of Victoria Landry, performed "Fum, Fum, Fum!" and Robert Huxley sang a verse of "O Tannenbaum" in both German and English.
The Swedish children's song "Ritsch, Ratsch, Filibom!" was introduced as a song that might stir a holiday party, and when the Meetinghouse Chorale filled the aisles during its performance, one young audience member declared, "Now I know how 'surround sound' was invented!"
Vocalist Jodie Rachman, guitarist and vocalist Elizabeth Lorrey, and percussionist Michele Kiersey performed a soulful version of "I'll be Home for Christmas," and, later in the program, "O Holy Night."
Mary Ellen Jones read "Christmas at Sea," by Robert Louis Stevenson, and Doris Huxley read "This Year at Christmas," by Jean Penner.
Charline Oelfke sang the Polish carol "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly," Janice Yancy sang the Negro spiritual "Mary Had a Baby," and the chorale and audience sang other traditional carols.
Toward the end of the program, organist Lois Toeppner played "Ou s'en Vont Ces Gais Bergers" (Where are the Happy Shepherds Going?") by Claude Balbastre on the 1847 Stevens tracker organ. (The "trackers" in the organ are the rods that physically connect the keys with the pipes.)
For a calendar of upcoming events at the Shirley Meeting House, visit www.shirleymeetinghouse.org/events.htm.