The 70-voice Laurel Lake Encore Chorale under the direction of Donna Anderson presented a series of three superb Holiday Concerts for standing-room-only audiences at Laurel Lake Retirement Community in Hudson, Ohio one week before Christmas.
The marathon of marvelous music-making kicked off Monday, Dec. 15 at 7:00 PM with a lively performance in tandem with the 25-piece Metro Parks Ensemble, an all-volunteer orchestra under conductor Karen Bennett which performs in the Summit County Metro Parks. The Chorale opened with a spritely rendition of the New England carol, "Over The River and Through The Woods" (arr. James Eliot) followed by "Winter Beautiful," a contemporary piece by Vicki Tucker Courtney and John Parker, on loan from the Encore Creativity Choral Library. The singers performed this tender ballad with sensitivity, shimmering harmonies and beautiful unison passages. The Metro Parks Ensemble then stepped up with a delightful swing band version of "Winter Wonderland" (arr. Michael Storey) that had every toe tapping.
Next, the Chorale performed their most difficult piece -- "Snowfall" by Claude & Ruth Thornhill, in a smooth jazz arrangement recorded by Manhattan Transfer (arr. Roger Emerson). Joined by percussionist Jill Rango playing a brush drum pattern and Ruth Anderson on piano, the choristers delivered a flawless performance of the hushed, close and often angular jazz harmonies that took considerable effort to master. The choir then switched gears again with a boisterous “Russian Dance” from Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker” (arr. Jeff Funk) sung entirely on “Fa la la” and “plum.”
The Metro Parks Ensemble kept the energy going with a humorous piece, “Santa Meets the Big Bands” (arr. James Plohhar), then quieted things down again with James Swearingen’s beautiful interpretation of “Silent Night,” ushering in a sacred Christmas portion of the program. The Chorale sang “Promise of Peace,” inspired by the beloved 19th century text “Watchman, Tell Us of the Night” with poignant new music by Mark Hayes. Their full, rich sound, artistic phrasing and careful diction were very moving. Next, Andre J. Thomas’ rhythmic arrangement of the West Indies carol, “The Virgin Mary Had A Baby Boy,” with percussionist Jill Rango on the cajón box drum created a wonderful “island” feel. The choir performed this piece with great gusto and accented rhythms, culminating in a ringing final chord. The final piece in this set, the traditional Burgundian carol “Pat-a-pan” (arr. Mark Burrows) had the singers playfully weaving the pat-a-pan and tu-re-lu-re-lu motifs throughout the piece, with Amy Hartman’s flute and Jill Rango’s hand drum lending an ancient flavor to the complex setting. The choir clearly loved it, and so did the audience!
Finally, the Encore Chorale and Metro Parks Ensemble joined forces for “Holiday Favorites,” (arr. Roger Emerson) a medley of Let It Snow, Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer, Jingle Bell Rock, Silver Bells and Frosty The Snowman, with the audience joyfully singing along. The concert closed with a lively performance of John Rutter’s delightful “We With You A Merry Christmas” by the Chorale.
The Encore Chorale performed this concert two more times during the week with different guest artists, and each performance was a rousing success! On Tuesday December 16 at 3:00 PM, a brass octet known as The Tuba-Fours joined the Chorale, performing “Angels We Have Heard on High,” “Coventry Carol,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and a witty variation on “Jingle Bells,” all compiled and arranged by Alec Wilder and Norman Bewly for tuba choir. The Friday, December 19 concert at 3:00 PM featured four-hands piano duets by Ruth Anderson and noted classical organist and hand bell composer/arranger H. Dean Wagner: “Bring A Torch, Jeannette Isabella,” “What Child Is This,” and “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentleman” (arr. Joel Raney).
Punch and cookie receptions followed each concert as our singers, instrumentalists, friends and family members celebrated the very successful conclusion of another Laurel Lake Encore Chorale holiday season!