Poetry and Music Unite to Light the Holidays

From Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols,” written in the dark days of WWII to the rollicking “A Musicological Journey Through the Twelve Days of Christmas,” the Chamber Singers of Iowa City’s concert, “A Candlelight Christmas,” will bring touches of warmth and glimmers of light, hope and humor to the darkest days of the year.

The relationship between poetry and music has become a leitmotif with the Singers of late.  The poem, “Heaven” from “Heaven-and-Earth House,” read by the author, Mary Swander, will begin the program.

Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols” follows with accompaniment by harpist Pam Weest-Carrasco.  The 11-movement work was written in part as Britten and his companion returned by ship to England from the United States.  Their voyage was miserable: in tiny, inhospitable quarters, and sea-sickness exacerbated by need for constant zigzagging to avoid Nazi U-boat torpedoes.  Soloists are: Kristen Eisenhammer, soprano; Beth Korleski, soprano; Colin Wilson, tenor; Michala Martin and Lauren Ringe, sopranos.

Two readings follow: “Poetry is not a Luxury” from Sister Outsider by Audra Lorde, and “The Origin of Weaving” from The Precarious / QUIPPOem Cecilia Vecuña, both read by Alea Adigweme.

Local composer Peter Bloesch contributes two works, a lovely original hymn, “There Is No Rose of Such Virtue,” and an arrangement of the traditional carol, “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.”  His interpretation is fresh and innovative, using chord progressions you might not have noticed before, and introducing some interesting meter changes that might have you wondering, “What just happened there?”

The poem, “Twelfth Night” from “My Many-coated Man,” by English author Laurie Lee (1914–1997) follows.  Lee wrote in many genres, but his first love was always poetry.  “Twelfth Night” was set for unaccompanied mixed choir by American composer Samuel Barber in 1968.

Quatre Motets pour le Temps de Noël,” by Francis Poulenc present familiar themes from his unique viewpoint and include: “O magnum mysterium,” “Quem vidistis, pastores dicite,” “Videntes stellam,” and “Hodie Christus natus est.”

This concert introduces Lindsey Bruner Woodcock, the Singers’ assistant director, who will conduct three pieces by John Cheetham: “I Saw Three Ships,” “What Is This Fragrance?,” and “Ding Dong, Merrily on High.”  These pieces are featured on the Singers’ Christmas recording, available for purchase.

Mary Swander’s poem, “The Living Creche” from Out of This World brings a special intimacy to the familiar symbolic tableaux.

If you slept through your music history and appreciation courses, the Singers come to your rescue.  You’ll make the 12-movement journey from the sixth century to the 19th century with Craig Courtney’s “A Musicological Journey through the Twelve Days of Christmas” in record time.  You won’t even need a Delorean!

Lynda Hakken, the Singers’ long-time accompanist, will play all piano accompaniments.  The splendid setting of First Methodist Church will enhance everyone’s enjoyment.

The Chamber Singers of Iowa City present “A Candlelight Christmas,” Sunday, December 11, 2016 at 3:00 p.m. at First United Methodist Church, 220 E. Jefferson Street, Iowa City.

James Peterson sings with Chamber Singers of Iowa City