SHIRLEY -- Fresh-fallen snow on a piercingly cold, moonlit night didn't quite give a "luster of midday" to the Town Common, but it did add seasonal beauty to the scene outside the old Shirley Meeting House, where the eighth annual Candlelight Vespers performance was held Sunday night.
Inside the antique church, all was light and warmth and sounds of the season: merry, whimsical, devotional or just plain fun. The program began with four holiday songs and included reminiscences and recitations, such as the famous "Yes, Virginia, There is a Santa Claus," a newspaper editorial written in the 1800's by Francis Pharcellus Church. The program even included a dance number. Looking like a ballerina-swan in a snow globe, with graceful moves and a glittery green elfin outfit, Kimberly Huxley danced to "Long Ago in Bethlehem" with Silvia Bota on piano.
Organizer Holly Haase and her helpers start planning the event in July. A trained singer whose musical connections range from opera to classical to modern show tunes, Haase searches for unique pieces within the holiday genre to make the playbill unique and different each year.
This year's fare included some seasonal favorites such as "I'll be Home for Christmas," sung by Lou Garofalo, traditional carols such as "Away in a Manger," sung by Charline Oelfke and "The First Noel," sung by the chorus, artfully arranged for a fresh flair.
The church building -- maintained by a private group of citizens who do it all with fundraising events and donations -- made a marvelous venue for an old-fashioned concert, with its tall columns, vaulted ceilings, wide-board floors and high-backed wooden benches. The room brought the audience closer to the performers and the music rose and resonated from the stage to the organ loft.
If more people turn out next year, some folks can sit up to the balcony, Haase said, where the church's new heating system makes it cozy-warm and there's a birds-eye view.
After the performance, the audience -- the largest the evens ever drawn -- was invited next door to the old Center Town Hall for mulled cider and desert.