Ah, Christmas: the busiest and perhaps most stressful time of the year. As we dash to and fro, buying the perfect present, running to choir rehearsal or from it, baking cookies for the cookie swap or counting down the days until family arrives for the holidays, indeed Christmas has become anything but peaceful in today’s culture.
It is so easy to get lost in the stress and forget to focus on the joy, the peace, the memories. A familiar Christmas carol tune catches our paused ear, as we take a few seconds to catch our breath, and memories come flooding back. We are reminded that joy is not a feeling, but a state of being. Peace is not the opposite of stress, but the calm amidst it. Memories are not the yesteryear longing for a better time, but the building blocks and hope for a better future. The Chesapeake Choral Arts Society’s performance of “Winter Melodies Old & New” does just that; it makes you pause and remember the simple, innocent, joy of Christmas.
…a night of unforgettable musical excellence, beauty, and history…
The Chesapeake Choral Arts Society, directed by Carol Charnock, is a choral group in Southern Maryland that boasts over 50 members. This talented chorale, and their incredible conductor Leroy Pressley, never fail to impress audiences with their musical abilities, always seeking to give audiences a true appreciation of music.
Much like an entry-level music appreciation class I took in Jr. College, this group gives history and setting to each piece they perform. They travel through time on the rhythms and movements of each piece as the audience literally hears the music change and grow through history. I think this is a truly dynamic way of presenting a concert, as I often listen to music without truly comprehending the meaning behind the notes. I have had the blessing of reviewing a few of their performances, and they never fail to deliver captivating vocal routines with a joy and passion I cannot quite put into words.
“Winter Melodies Old & New” is a new take on this choir’s usual holiday performance. Instead of doing their traditional “A Renaissance Christmas,” they chose to travel through time with Christmas music all the way to the 2000s. What an incredible display of Christmas favorites, from the traditional “Ave Maria” to “Sisters” from “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin. The choir still performed entirely clothed in traditional renaissance attire (they must’ve been quite warm in all of those layers), which is a stunning sight in itself. It is truly a journey through time and music, narrated cleverly by a British grandmother (Mary E. Rigney) with great wit and wonderful stories, and accompanied by incredible musical talents.
A string quartet from North Point High School accompanied the choir through their opening pieces. Choir members dashed from all corners of the room to play hand-bells for several of the songs, ringing loud and clear. W.G Pete Stokes provided some gentle percussion, and Therese Thiedman had the audience in stitches with her clever performance on what appeared to be a wooden xylophone drum during the MadriGals’ rendition of “Sisters”. Of course, the pianist, Josh Cockerham, simply dazzled the audience as his fingers flew at the speed of light for “Jingle Bells.” I declare him the funniest pianist I’ve ever had the pleasure of watching – every ounce of him echoes the song, even his eyebrows! All of these incredible performers were led valiantly by conductor Leroy Pressley. His musical expertise and leadership truly have built upon the foundation laid by the previous conductor Michael K. Santana, and the choir has blossomed in sound and in spirit.
The staging was simple. Being a dinner performance, round tables were set up in the room for the audience to eat around. Banners decorated the ceiling and walls, and holly was fetchingly draped across the windows. The choir really filled out the simple staging, at times positioning themselves to completely surround all of the tables in a large circle. The cacophony of sounds echoing through the room was breathtaking. At the end of the evening, true to the choir’s Christmas performance tradition, they circled around again with candles and performed “Stille Nacht” (the German version of “Silent Night”). Every fork was still, every eye glistening, as the simple, poignant harmonies rang through the church. It was as if the entire world had stopped spinning for the duration of that song; I did not want it to end!
“Winter Melodies Old & New” will touch your heart. The choral sought to remind us to rejoice in our life every day of the year. Each piece was carefully chosen to evoke joy, spread peace, and to encourage us to dabble in memories. The smiles and tears on the audience’s faces, ranging in age from 2-92, were enough to show that this choir had accomplished its mission. I highly recommend you carve some precious time out of your schedule to see this show, and if you miss it go check out the next one. This choir never fails to provide a night of unforgettable musical excellence, beauty, and history and does so with such a connection that I couldn’t help but feel involved in the performance.
Advisory: Beautiful music, stunning vocal performance, and classic Christmas music that the whole family will love.
Running Time: Approximately 2.5 hours, with a half-hour dinner and 10-minute dessert break.
“Winter Melodies Old & New” will be performed by the Chesapeake Choral Arts Society at the Peace Lutheran Church of Waldorf December 12-15th, 2019. For more information, or to purchase tickets, please see here.