Right after Thanksgiving, the stores start to play Christmas muzak. It’s a bit annoying in our place of sun and surf to hear the tunes celebrating sleighs and snow, and it doesn’t make me feel all that Christmas-y. So, what does make us feel the Christmas spirit on Big Island? For many of us, it’s the annual Christmas Concert, 26 years young, by the Waimea Community Chorus!
It’s quite a feat to fit over 60 singers on the stage, plus an orchestra of over 20, complete with piano and enough percussion instruments (you must have lots of kinds of bells for a Christmas concert!) to threaten to spill into the audience. The Kahilu crew did a fantastic job with the acoustics. The orchestra accompanied the singers perfectly, never overshadowing the singers; soloists were mic’d so that even standing where they were among the chorus (no room for them to come up front), their voices came through beautifully.
It’s wonderful to see different people showcased as soloists and to see new people get a chance to shine. We also love hearing our favorites again, such as soprano Amy Mills who fa-la-la’ed with ease and elicited shouts of delight when she hit a high note at the end of Deck the Halls.When you have an annual concert, the audience both wants to be comforted by old favorites and surprised by something new: a tall order for Barbara Kopra, the chorus guru, to pull off year after year. This time, she chose the International Carol Suites, a complete work that includes carols (religious songs) from around the world, arranged (adapting existing music to performance by a certain kind of instrument or group, including putting in new harmonies) and orchestrated (writing the parts for an orchestra) by composer and arranger Mark Hayes.
The work includes five suites of about five carols each from Western Europe, Eastern Europe, the British Isles, Central and South America, and North America. Many songs were familiar, providing the audience with “comfort and joy,” such as God Rest You Merry Gentlemen, Angels We Have Heard on High, What Child is This. Others provided the “something new,” such as the Carol of Russian Children, Song of the Wise Men, and the Huron Carol; at least they were new to me! It was interesting that most of the North American carols came from the gospel tradition; I am hard pressed to think of any well-known U.S. carols from other traditions. I wished, given that these were songs from many parts of the world, that Hayes had arranged the carols to accentuate their national character; they sounded rather homogenized into one style. More contrast would have created welcome variation.
The final song was “Go, Tell It on the Mountain,” one of my favorites. When it came to the last chorus, it was sung softly which felt somewhat anti-climactic. I wanted it to be loud and triumphant!
The reason this concert makes us feel a lot like Christmas is not just the uplifting music and words of hope in the carols’ story of the birth of Jesus. The warmth, camaraderie, and support for each other among the chorus members is evident. Listening to each other closely so that all of our different voices combine to make a glorious and joyful noise – isn’t that our hope for the world?
Meizhu Lui didn’t know there was any other kind of music except classical until she hit junior high! Piano and flute have been her own instruments of choice. She is now pursuing her bucket list goal of deepening her musical knowledge and skills.
Photos: Steve Roby
Read our review of the Waimea Community Chorus’ tribute to songs from the 1940’s: https://www.bigislandmusic.net/sentimental-journey-to-the-1940s/