Island Community Chorus
The Island Community Chorus fills the Old Whaling Church stage. Photos by Ralph Stewart

With voices and spirit

By Mary-Jean Miner - November 30, 2006

The Island Community Chorus will present a very special winter concert at the Whaling Church on Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 4 and 5, beginning at 7:30 pm. Last year, when the chorus celebrated its 10th anniversary, an anonymous donor made it possible for the board of directors to hire professional musicians; some came from Boston and others from as far away as Baltimore, Md. For this concert, which will feature Johann Sebastian Bach's Cantata No. 79, an orchestra has again been invited and the chorus will perform the work in German, yet another first for the group.

Soloists for the cantata include Shelley Brown, singing the alto aria, and Kristopher Hauck and Pamela Butterick, performing the bass recitative and soprano and bass duet. Director Peter Boak continues to find interesting and, above all, challenging works for the chorus; the program will also include another Bach work, "Wir eilen mit schwachen, doch emsigen Schritten," performed by the women's choir, this time in English translation; Randall Thompson's "Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening," featuring the tenors and basses, a musical setting of the Robert Frost poem; Thompson's "Velvet Shoes;" and the popular "I'll Be Home for Christmas." Island composer Philip Dietterich's setting of a Shaker tune, "Winter Song" completes the vocal program. The instrumentalists, also under the direction of Mr. Boak, will present an orchestral work. Accompanist Garrett Brown will be featured on piano and organ.

Garrett Brown
Accompanist Garrett Brown at a chorus rehearsal.

With a chorus numbering more than 100, there is surely a great diversity in age, ability, and training, and Mr. Boak is often cited by singers as making the very most of each and every singer's individual strengths. Jan Hyer, who has been rehearsing in the soprano section and, for this concert, again joins the orchestra as cellist, says it this way: "Peter's knowledge is natural and extends to everyone, including the orchestra. He allows people to shine, as he's a natural teacher." Ms. Hyer added that his outlook has expanded her own teaching, in how she talks to people and helps them to expand their abilities.

Ms. Hyer heard Garrett Brown rehearsing at Union Chapel some years ago and decided to become part of the chorus and learn from both Mr. Boak and Mr. Brown. "I came from the pit orchestra for the Island Theatre Workshop's presentation of 'The Mikado,' with Peter Boak as music director," she said. "I mostly played with string groups and hadn't sung in a while."

Citing the differences between orchestral playing and singing, Ms. Hyer said, "String playing is done by mechanical means, and with singing you are the instrument. It's so incredibly different. It actually has improved my playing, as I am changing gears." Ms. Hyer, who began studying with piano at age five, took up cello at 15, because, as she said, "No one told me I couldn't start at that late age!" She mentioned that the ability to work with fellow singers is much like playing in a quartet: "it involves all of us," she said. As she leaves the soprano section and joins the instrumentalists, she observed, "It's a joy to meet and play with other people. I rarely get to play with brass, so it's like having a full orchestral experience again."

This season, several new people have joined the chorus for the first time, and soprano Heather Curtis is among them. Ms. Curtis moved here in July, and soon was looking for a place to sing. "I learned about the chorus from my mom, on Long Island, who read about it in the paper," she said. "Even though the group comprises all ages, backgrounds, and levels of ability, Peter can work with everybody at each one's level. [The chorus] is also a good way to be part of the Island community." Heather Curtis may also be heard several times daily on radio station WMVY, delivering the news.

Emily Furlong, alto, also a newcomer, had heard several of the choral concerts, thanks to her friend Peggy Schwier, who sings in the soprano section. Ms. Furlong, whose parents live here, has spent all her summers on Island and recently arrived here from New York City, where, she said, "I envied everyone who was pursuing a career in music, and was tired of pounding pavements in search of my own success, while such good things were going on here!" Asked about her experience with the chorus, she said, "I love it! There's just nothing better than being with a group of people whose only agenda is to sing, just for the love of singing!"

Judy Crawford, alto, who is a charter member of the chorus and currently chairs the board of directors, talked about the changes in the last 10 years, and the continuing progress the chorus makes with each different concert. "It's been a great experience just watching us grow and evolve, musically, as we become more and more professional," she said.

Anthony Scheller, bass, who has also been singing, as he said, "One day longer than forever - and with joy!" A veteran of school groups, boys' choirs, and church choirs, Tony took a 30-year hiatus, before returning to singing with the former Abendmusik choir. He added, "It's the hardest work I have ever done, and the most fun!"

An indication of the abilities and interest and enthusiasm, particularly of the younger set, was presented at a recent rehearsal. Dubbed "The Children's Choir," by Mr. Boak, Heather and Emily, joined by Jane Doutzenhiser, Kris Hauck, and Jennifer Sanders, got together to sing their announcement, "All We Need is Food," (or an approximation thereof) as recruitment for donations for the receptions after the concerts. Obviously these young people have caught on to the love of singing in this chorus!

Let the Island Community Chorus share their music with you at the annual Holiday Concert.

The Island Community Chorus, with orchestra, will present a Holiday Concert, Monday, Dec. 4 and Tuesday, Dec. 5, 7:30 pm, at the Old Whaling Church, Main Street, Edgartown. Receptions following. Suggested donation, $15.