After his rehearsals with the Island Community Chorus on Monday nights, director Peter Boak admits, “I’m pretty exhausted.”
It’s an intense two hours. Directing the singers is 90 percent of the job, and listening to them is the other 90 percent. Looking up from our music, we’ll occasionally see Mr. Boak with his eyes closed, or gazing at the ceiling in his effort to concentrate on the task of listening. If a section hits the wrong note in a difficult passage, you can almost always be sure that at the next pause, the director will take them right back to woodshed the problematic phrase.
Every Monday night since January 7 — except for a couple of dates canceled by blizzards — the chorus, Mr. Boak and accompanist Garrett Brown have been gathering in their new rehearsal space, Trinity Methodist Church in Oak Bluffs, to practice a concert program of two pieces that could hardly be more different: John Rutter’s “Requiem,” and a lively compilation of show tunes by Stephen Sondheim.
The fruits of this semester of work will be shared for all to enjoy in a pair of concerts this Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, April 6 and 7, at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School’s Performing Arts Center.
Mr. Boak discovered the choir’s new rehearsal space last November, on a Monday night when both the high school rehearsal room and the usual backup space at St. Andrew’s Church in Edgartown were unavailable. Mr. Brown, who is organist for the United Methodist parish, suggested the church on the Campgrounds. The choir tried the space, and Mr. Boak was impressed with its acoustics.
“I love the sound of the chorus in there,” he says. “We’re singing so much better as an ensemble. Do you remember how, at the high school, I would spend a lot of time wandering up into the middle of the bass and tenor sections? That was because I couldn’t hear from the podium.”
More than a few members of the chorus were wondering, when the music for this weekend’s concert was handed out in January, what Mr. Boak could possibly have been thinking when he put two such dissimilar pieces of music together on the program. Contrast, it turns out, was precisely what he was looking for.
Rutter’s Requiem, first performed in 1985, is one of the best-loved and most widely performed choral works of the 20th century. Its texts, in Latin and in English, are adapted from traditional elements of the Catholic and Anglican funeral masses, and its seven sections form a meditation on the themes of life and death. It’s a powerful, exalting work, but it’s decidedly not light entertainment.
When he realized that he wanted to present the Requiem again — the chorus last sang it in 2000 — Mr. Boak raised the idea with Mr. Brown, pointing out that with this 40-minute work on the program they’d need something else to fill out the spring concerts. Recalls Mr. Boak: “Garrett said he thought performing the Requiem was fine, but for the other half of the program, we’d need something that is totally opposite.”
After some research, he settled on a 20-minute piece featuring songs from seven of Sondheim’s most famous Broadway musicals. It’s filled with humor, hummable tunes, and Sondheim’s signature witty lyrics. “I think what we’ve got in this collection is some of his best music, in terms of audience appeal,” says Mr. Boak. “And his texts are just wonderful.”
The director has pulled together a small orchestra to join Mr. Brown at the organ for the program’s opening Requiem. Sophia Saunders-Jones, the second recipient of the choir’s Peter Boak Music Award, is playing flute. Jan Hyer will play the beautiful cello solo that’s a centerpiece of the Requiem’s second movement, “Out of the Deep,” based on Psalm 130. Also accompanying the chorus will be oboist Cheryl Bishkoff from Woonsocket, R.I., and harpist Juli Miller from Newton. Abigail Chandler, one of the Island’s most gifted sopranos and a music teacher at the high school, will be a soloist in both the Rutter and the Sondheim pieces.
The Island Community Chorus performs three times each year, and Mr. Boak traditionally picks the most difficult music for this spring concert. “I think we need something to do in the winter,” he says. “Something that keeps our intellect and our energy piqued.” He’s proud of the way the choir has risen to the challenges presented by this program: “We’ve really had intrepid people for this term – more than 90 singers for this concert.”
Island Community Chorus Spring Concert, Saturday, April 6, 7:30 pm and Sunday, April 7, 3 pm, M.V. Regional High School Performing Arts Center, Oak Bluffs. $15. For more information, visit islandcommunitychorus.com.