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December: Time for Singing!

Every December I am struck by the overwhelming list of concertgoing options in the city, as seemingly every choral ensemble and orchestra comes out of the woodwork with offerings ranging from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and Handel’s Messiah to John Adams’s El Niño and Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel. Sting just finished his two winter-themed concerts up at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine—which I covered in a recent SundayArts blog—groups like the Western Wind are here performing a mix of songs and carols relating to Christmas, Hannukah, and the winter season; and all kinds of cool seasonal stuff can be found up at the Cloisters. If it’s the purity of the sound of boys’ and men’s voices, you can’t do much better than the St. Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue, where seasonal offerings include works by Vaughan Williams, Pearsall, Richard Rodney Bennett, David Willcocks, and Mathias. And you can’t forget about The Bobs, the California-based a cappella group, none of whose names are Bob, who are in town performing their offbeat Christmas show at the Iridium on December 15. I like having all the options, even if I can’t make it to even a tenth of these concerts.

For some people, December happens to be only the time of year that they make it into the concert hall—or perhaps a church, since it’s Christmas season—because they enjoy the sound of massed voices singing baroque masterpieces by Bach or Handel, or its familiarity is comforting and reminiscent of music heard in childhood. Others attend seasonal concerts given by their children’s school ensembles. Music-nerd families like my own feature parents (that would be me) forcing their kids to learn rounds of Hallelujah/Amen or goofy renditions of “Scalloped Potatoes” (arrangements learned from CDs of folk singer/comedian Christine Lavin, who performs in Brooklyn on December 19).

This all got me thinking about concerts and singing, because what many of us really like to do in December is not just listen, but sing. My friend John has written a spectacularly silly, inspired Frankie Valli-style arrangement of “Silver Bells” for my own little vocal group, which we intend to blast to the hilt at our next concert, even if it is sandwiched in an otherwise sober program that includes works by Dufay, Sweelinck, and Bach. Maybe it’s just me, but from my standpoint there’s nothing better than singing to banish thoughts of the dark, cold time of year. If you don’t regularly sing in a group, I can’t think of a better opportunity to do get in some seasonal singing at the free “Community Sing” on Saturday, December 12 at Harlem’s Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, presented by Carnegie Hall’s Free Neighborhood Concert Series. Here, the Songs of Solomon Choir, a local youth choir led by director Chantel Renee Wright, will perform, and they are inviting vocalists of any age to attend and participate. You may have caught the Songs of Solomon ensemble performing in Carnegie Hall’s Bernstein Mass Project during the 2008-09 season. They also have performed at the women’s final of the U.S. Open Tennis tournament and with artists like Aretha Franklin and Fantasia. If you haven’t heard the group, they are definitely worth checking out:

See them singing “Just Tell Jesus”on YouTube:

or check out more music on the group’s MySpace page  (with Kelly Clarkson)

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SundayArts is made possible in part by First Republic Bank and by the Rubin Museum of Art. Funding for SundayArts is also made possible by Rosalind P. Walter, The Paul and Irma Milstein Foundation, The Philip & Janice Levin Foundation, Elise Jaffe and Jeffrey Brown, Jody and John Arnhold, and The Lemberg Foundation. This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council. Additional funding provided by members of THIRTEEN.
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