Among the many year-round delights the Rangeley Friends of the Arts provide for the community, the Yuletide performances shine bright on the

longest nights of the year. This year’s Community Chorus concert, titled A Christmas Tapestry, proved to be rich, varied, and colorful, and warmed the capac

ity audience at the Church of the Good Shepherd on a chill December evening.

             Subtitled Three Choirs in Song, the vocal extravaganza featured the Rangeley Community Chorus, The Farmington ensembleNorthfield, and theRangeleySchool’s Middle/High School Choir.

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            The first part of the evening was given to Northfield, a 10-voice chamber ensemble that has been making music in various configurations for over 30 years. Their repertory relies heavily on Early American hymns of the shape-note tradition and polyphonic compositions of the Renaissance. The latter were represented by William Byrd’s Hodie Christus Natus Est, by Puer natus in Bethlehem by Michael Praetorius, and by an Ave Maria setting by Robert Parsons, in all of which the women sang with light, almost vibratoless tone, sounding like the boys that would have sung the music in the 16th century. Fuller voices were called for in another Ave Maria setting by Rachmaninoff in which the group underscored the exciting dynamic shifts characteristic in  Russian choral music. Northfield finished their segment with a trio of Early American Christmas tunes, including one by Farmington’s Supply Belcher (1751-1836), but not before lightening the proceedings with a very funny chorale by P.D.Q. Bach, the last – and least – of Johann Sebastian’s 21 children (actually a creation of the unstoppably risible Peter Schickele).

            Two Northfieldsingers who hail from Rangeley are Dan Simonds and Sue Downes-Borko, and all the Northfieldsingers joined the Community Chorus in the second half. Sue is also the director of the Rangeley Community Chorus, which opened the segment with the well-known Alice Parker-Robert Shaw arrangement of the Catalan carol Fum, Fum, Fum. A lush setting of Et In Terra Pax by J. Purifoy incorporated the Gloria from the French carol Les anges dans nos camp

agnes, and Audrey Snyder’s Dark is the Silent Night modulated seamlessly from an Eastern-sounding mode into Franz Gruber’s famous carol.

            Soloists drawn fro

m the chorus included tenor Connor Durgin with a heart-felt rendition of Oh Holy Night, and Linda Wendelken and Kit Caspar, with Derek Wendelken on guitar, channeling the 1961 Newport Folk Festival with Joan Baez’s What You Gonna Call Your Pretty Little Baby.

            The PEPS, Rangeley’s premiere a cappella quartet (Pamela Morse, Erin Smith, Pam Ellis, and Sue Downes-Bo

rko), with their signature tight harmony, precise ensemble and genial spirit, prophetically sang Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!, composed inHollywood by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne on one of the hottest days on record.

           Throughout the evening choristers read poems of the season that were personal favorites, and the irrepressibleSue Downes-Borko threw in a few well-timed jokes.

           Eighteen members of the Rangeley Middle/High School Choir joined the first two groups for the evening’s big finish, an upbeat, jazzy version of the traditional God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen, and a thrilling conflation of two spirituals: Amen, and Go Tell It on the Mountain with Pamela Morse as the call-and-response soloist. The warming effect of the captivating music stayed with the crowd as it dispersed into the sub-zero, moonlit night.

             


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