Music

Linus Munn, Tobey Roberts, and Kestutis Biskis entertain the crowd at last year's concert. – File photo by Maria Thibodeau

The second annual All-Island Spring Orchestra Concert takes place Thursday, May 28, at 6:30 pm at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School Performing Arts Center, and will showcase the musical talents of all Island orchestra students in grades 2 to 12.

The Advanced Elementary Orchestra will play arrangements of “Sinfonia in A minor” by Georg Philipp Telemann, “Dance of the Samodivi” by Soon Hee Newbold, “Finale from Symphony 10 in G Major, K. 74” by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” by Duke Ellington.

The Intermediate Orchestra will play “Into the Deep” by Nancy Jephcote and “D String Boogie” by Michael Sweeney. The Beginning Orchestra will perform two selections from Essential Elements for Strings, by Michael Gillespie: “Song for Christine” and “Diving D Challenge.” The visiting High School Orchestra will unveil its selections at the show.

 

Following this weekend’s group performance, each school will have its own individual “End of Year” recital. According to Ms. Jephcote, beginners will perform as a group playing Suzuki repertoire, and all other students will perform a memorized solo.

Schedule of individual school recitals:

Oak Bluffs School recital: Friday, June 5, 5:30 pm

Tisbury School recital: Tuesday, June 9, 5:30 pm

Chilmark School recital: Thursday, June 11, 5:30 pm

Edgartown School recital: Monday, June 15, 5:30 pm

West Tisbury School recital: Tuesday, June 16, 5:30 pm

 

Tickets for Art Garfunkel's show on July 18 are now available. – Photo courtesy Windy Gates Productions

Grammy award-winning singer and actor Art Garfunkel will grace the stage of the Martha’s Vineyard High School Performing Arts Center (PAC) on July 18. The iconic singer will bring his two-man show, with guitarist Tab Laven, to the PAC for one show.

According to a press release, his live set encompasses his solo hits, Simon and Garfunkel songs, numbers from his favorite songwriters — Jimmy Webb, Randy Newman, A.C. Jobim, and Paul Simon — and readings from his new book. In addition to his musical performance, Art will share stories from his life experience as part of this show. 

The Rock & Roll Hall of Fame member talked about his live show in a wide-ranging, five-part interview with Forbes.com:

“My work centers around a 90-minute show. I sing 18 songs and serve up 10 readings, my prose poems. I’m into it. I wrote about my life in show business, my woman, crossing the U.S. and Europe on foot, the mystery of it all. I feel, from sentence to sentence, I’m holding them. The act of reading poems, and the inflections and pauses, seems to me like singing. You can do them both with poignancy if you practice.”

For additional information about the acclaimed artist, you can dig into Art’s website, where he chronicles, in order, every book he has read since 1968 (all 1,204 of them), his 60 favorite songs of all time, acting credits, poetry, and discography: artgarfunkel.com.

Blessed with what the New York Times described as a “beautiful countertenor,” Art Garfunkel has made an indelible mark on the music world as both a solo artist and half of the unrivaled Simon and Garfunkel. He has also enjoyed a successful film career, published a book of poetry, and released 12 original solo albums, the most recent being Some Enchanted Evening in 2007. In 2012, he most proudly released his retrospective, a 2-CD compendium, The Singer.

“An Intimate Evening with Art Garfunkel,” July 18, 7:30 pm, Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center. Tickets begin at $75, children age 16-plus only. Tickets available at ticketsmv.com.

 

MVRHS students will display their art at the Performing Arts Center on Wednesday. – Art courtesy Chris Baer
MVRHS students will display their art at the Performing Arts Center on Wednesday. – Art courtesy Chris Baer

Don’t miss the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) showcase of visual and performing arts, including drawing, painting, photography, ceramics, architecture, sculpture, video, animation, design, graphics, video games, invention, fashion, music, theater, and dance, Wednesday, May 20. The annual multimedia event will feature the many talents of our Island’s teens.

View the student-made animation The Sweetness of Savings, models and drawings of the Pergola Project, work from the winners of the 2015 Scholastic Art Awards and Mass Photo Challenge, an Arduino-controlled maze-playing ballgame, an oil-cooled computer in a fish tank, gigantic origami, a magnetically levitating solar-powered motor made from 3D printed parts, a preview of the Vineyard Conservation Society’s “The Art of Conservation: Water — An Island Treasure” art competition, a Vietnam–Martha’s Vineyard photography exchange project, award-winning posters, music videos, 3D prints, highlights from the Martha’s Vineyard Museum’s student “Then & Now” photography show, handmade handbags and scarves, screen prints, and much more.

For music and entertainment, soloists and small group performances will feature original choreography and dance, men’s a cappella by SoundWave, renditions of Broadway hits, classical piano, pop, and original work. The MVRHS year-end concert will include combined chorus, orchestra, band, and jazz band. Additional performances will also take place in the intimate Coffee House area that will be designated for the event.

 

Evening of the Arts at MVRHS; Wednesday, May 20, 6 to 9 pm, free. Enter through the Performing Arts Center foyer. For additional information, contact Chris Baer at cbaer@mvyps.org or Jan Wightman at jwightman@mvyps.org.

 

Clarinetist Kelli O’Connor, will join the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society at their annual Spring Concert on Sunday, May 24. – Photo courtesy Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society

Violist Scott Woolweaver, founding member of the award-winning Boston Composers String Quartet, and clarinetist Kelli O’Connor, founding member of the Chameleon Arts Ensemble of Boston, will join Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society’s artistic director, pianist Delores Stevens, in the society’s annual Spring Concert on Sunday, May 24. The program will be the society’s salute to National Chamber Music Month, and will be onstage at 3 pm in Edgartown’s classic Old Whaling Church. Adult tickets will be available at the door for $20, and students will be admitted free.

According to a press release, the Sunday-afternoon celebration of chamber music will include the “Sonata in F minor for viola and piano” by Johannes Brahms and the “Sonata for clarinet and piano” by Leonard Bernstein. Both will showcase the two guest artists from Boston. Rounding out the afternoon, all three will join for “Four Pieces for clarinet, viola and piano” by Max Bruch, and a trio by Julius Rontgen.

Violist Scott Woolweaver graduated with distinction from the University of Michigan School of Music before moving to Boston for graduate work with violist Walter Trampler. He was a founding member of the Boston Composers String Quartet, which won the silver medal at the String Quartet and Chamber Music Festa in Osaka, Japan, and went on to tour the United States and Europe with the quartet. He is violist of the award-winning New England Piano Quartette, Boston’s Handel & Haydn Society, Boston Baroque, and spends summers at the Rocky Ridge Music Center in Estes Park, Colo., at Adult Chamber Music Seminars at the Interlochen Arts Camp, and at Kneisel Hall in Blue Hill, Maine.

A soloist, educator, chamber and orchestral musician, clarinetist Kelli O’Connor earned praise recently as “an individualistic player with plenty of head and heart … the star of the evening … gorgeous tone and liquid line,” according to the New London Day. Ms. O’Connor is a founding member of the Chameleon Arts Ensemble of Boston and the Radiance Woodwind Quintet, principal clarinet of the Eastern Connecticut Symphony Orchestra, and appears frequently with the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. She previously served as principal clarinet with the Connecticut Virtuosi Chamber Orchestra.

 

In its 45th consecutive season, MVCMS has drawn outstanding artists from around the globe, and commissioned more than a dozen new works from contemporary composers in the U.S. and abroad. In addition, the society sponsors a multifaceted education program for island youth, including an annual high school scholarship, private music lessons, and a string instrument loan program. For information regarding MVCMS concerts and community programs, call 508-696-8055 or visit mvcms.org.

 

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Pianist David Stanwood performs a song in between poetry sets. – Photo by Michael Cummo
Poet Susan Pucuil — Photo by Michael Cummo
Poet Susan Pucuil — Photo by Michael Cummo

On Thursday night local poets and musicians took to the MVTV studios for the 5th annual Potluck MV Poem in Your Pocket Day, produced by the Martha’s Vineyard Poetry Society. Many talented Islanders took turns on the podium in front of a studio audience for the live four-hour event. Host William Waterway presented the performers, including pianist David Stanwood, poet laureate Arnie Reisman, and poet Susan Pucuil, among others. Ten minutes were given to each poet, who rotated throughout the event. After each poetry reading, Island musicians provided interludes. The event, which was open to the public, also featured a table of potluck goodies for snacking.

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Photo by Topher Cox

Amy Fairchild, an award-winning singer and songwriter, is performing Friday, May 1, at 7:30 pm at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse. The concert is the first co-production of the Playhouse and Vineyard radio station MVY 88.7, and will benefit the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse and Friends of MVY Radio. The Fruit Flies, the young Island duo of Charlotte Benjamin and Eli Berlow, will open the show.

Ms. Fairchild’s songs inhabit a folk-rock spectrum that contains the likes of Sheryl Crow, Lucinda Williams, Jenny Lewis, and Brandi Carlile, with touches of Lifehouse and Sarah McLachlan. Ms. Fairchild told The Times that the comparison to Sheryl Crow “is not a bad comparison, at all.”

She got her start in the Northampton area in the early 1990s. In 1997, Ms. Fairchild took off for New York, where she won the Lilith Fair Talent Competition in 1999, an event co-founded by Ms. McLachlan, and in 2001, took a top Kerrville Folk Festival prize, putting her in the company of past winners Steve Earle, Lyle Lovett, and Nancy Griffith.

The Boston-based Ms. Fairchild began studying classical piano at age 5, but will bring only her acoustic guitar and magnificent voice to the show. Barbara Dacey, director of worldwide programming for MVY, booked Ms. Fairchild for the show after hearing her latest record, a 2014 release titled Amy Fairchild, for which she won the 2015 Limelight Magazine’s singer-songwriter of the year award. The record, produced by Adam Steinberg and mixed by Paul Kolderie, is Ms. Fairchild’s fourth record, and the first since the well-received, multi-songwriter-award winning Mr. Heart, released on her own label in 2002.

Ms. Fairchild has a busy spring and summer performance schedule, and will be opening for country music star Lee Ann Womack at Johnny D’s Uptown Restaurant and music Club in Somerville on June 25.

In a phone call from California, where Ms. Fairchild was visiting family and performing, she told The Times, “I plan to play songs from my 2002 release, Mr. Heart, in addition to a healthy dose of tunes from the new record, and might even try out a few new ones.”

According to a press release from MVY, Ms. Fairchild’s show “is the first of what the folks at MVY Radio and the Vineyard Playhouse hope will be many collaborative concerts at the Playhouse.”

Amy Fairchild, with the Fruit Flies, at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse, 24 Church Street in Vineyard Haven, on Friday, May 1. Doors open at 7 pm. The performance is at 7:30. Tickets $12, at the door only.


The Pathways team celebrates another season at the Chilmark Tavern. – Photo courtesy Pathways

The latest season of Pathways Living Room Studios wrapped up this past Saturday night, with a celebration of artists, writers, musicians, and performers for their innovative projects in the arts across the Island. Throughout the fifth annual Honoraria awards evening, musicians, artists, and writers, including Mait Edey, George Davis, Claudia Taylor, David Stanwood, Roberta Kirn, Sian Williams, Annette Sandrock, Matt Stamas, and Nikki Patton presented selected original music, songwriting, and poetry, with celebratory community support. Tony Tobia introduced his new music compositions, performed by pianist Adele Dreyer, baritone saxophonist Steve Tully, and violinist Atzic Marquez.

The event also honored Island organizations for their innovation in the arts, including Featherstone for its work on poetry programming for the Pathways/Featherstone/Noepe Summer Festival of Poetry; The Yard’s David White, for choreography residencies, and Jesse Keller, for children’s dance; Noepe Literary Center for development of new writing programs; Film Truth Productions’ Liz Witham and Ken Wentworth for a new film project in the arts and climate regeneration; and Martha’s Vineyard Sound’s Phil DaRosa for designing the 2015 summer music festival.

Individual visual artists who were honored with creative time to develop new artworks include Walker T. Roman for painting; Heather Goff for digital drawings, Ronni Simon for sea-glass sculpture; Paul Lazes for his photography project, Powerful Women of MV; Valerie Sonnenthal for her oceans photography – both underwater and wilderness; Laura Roosevelt for arts writing and photography; and William Waterway for his oceans photography.

Performing artists honored with support for time to create new music and/or dance include Tony Tobia for performance of new music compositions; Phil DaRosa for music and songwriting; Joe Keenan for sea songs; Kim Hilliard for songwriting; and Martha Eddy for global water dances.

Writers honored with support for creative time for new poetry, writing, and spoken words include Susan Puciul for poetry; Sian Williams for novel writing; Holly Nadler for writing on the arts, performance, and culture on Martha’s Vineyard; Annette Sandrock for travel poetry; and Claudia Taylor for a new poetry manuscript, text, and design.

The event also honored a handful of off-Island or New York–based arts organizations that include Trisha Brown, with support for reconstruction and repertory; Godfrey Muwulya, with support for choreography and drumming classes for African children; and Elaine Summers Dance & Film Company, with support for dance and multimedia.

In her welcome talk for the awards presentation, Pathways artistic director and founder Marianne Goldberg shared her vision for the annual honoraria: “This year we have again invited over 25 artists, writers, and organizations to accept the challenge and encouragement of a Pathways honoraria — to forge time to conceive and build new work. Projects in poetry, spoken word, and writing; projects in visual arts, from painting to photography to digital forms; and projects in performing arts, from music composition to songwriting to dance, are each awarded for the potential for individuals or collaborative teams to reach beyond what we have accomplished before. To start again, with what we call a seed project, the very beginnings of the desire to build from perhaps tender or raw ideas in dream form, is to realize the as yet unknown. It is exactly this initial unknowing which I consider at the heart of forging creative time. For if we already know how a question of discovery or inquiry will turn out, then we will have missed the most important process — the artistic expedition, a rocky, and sometimes precarious, yet exhilarating journey and time of immersion and flow.”

Works created with Pathways project’s support will be shared with the community at Pathways Gathering Space next season, and across the Island year-round. Arts programs supported at sister organizations are presented through their home venues.

 

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Michael Eudenback’s new CD brings the waves to your bedroom.

It is universally acknowledged that everybody loves the sound of ocean waves. Well, almost everyone. Back in the ’70s I heard about an individual — she happened to be a celebrity — who was rattled by the boom of big waves outside and even underneath her newly purchased house built on pilings over the Pacific Ocean. Lying awake at night in the Malibu Colony, pop singer Linda Ronstadt worked herself into a state of nervous exhaustion from the jolting breakers, so much so that she built a bunker out back on terra firma, with soundproofing panels to enable her to sleep through both “surf’s up”-size waves and nuclear war.

But apart from Ms. Ronstadt, seemingly everyone in the world is soothed by the sound of waves. Which brings us to the latest project of photographer Michael Eudenback, formerly of West Tisbury and now in Newport, R.I. Mr. Eudenback loves to film our beaches, but a few years back he realized another dimension of the ocean beguiled him utterly.

He’d been stressed out and losing sleep. In a recent phone interview with The Times he said, “I was consulting doctors about insomnia. Nothing seemed to help.”

He had no interest in medicating himself silly (as some of us do). And then one afternoon on Lambert’s Cove Beach, after snapping a number of gorgeous shots, he stretched out on the warm sand and fell asleep. His last thought before a nice restorative snooze was, “Man, those waves are soporific.”

He returned to Lambert’s Cove with a recorder, and soon he was able to take the waves home with him: “It was transformational. Night after night the sounds from the shore lulled me to sleep.”

Pretty soon Mr. Eudenback was a man on a mission. He recorded the heavy surf of South Beach (where Linda Ronstadt should never buy a home), and the softer waves of West Chop, Lucy Vincent, and Gay Head. The quality of the sound of the CD Mr. Eudenback has produced from these recordings, Ocean Sounds of Martha’s Vineyard, is so clean and pure that at a first listen one might wonder, “How the heck did he bring the beaches into a studio?”

Mr. Eudenback says he took every natural precaution to derive unsullied sound. “I recorded in the off-season, went out very early in the morning, and then I found tricks to deal with the wind” (which can, apparently, really ruin the track). He scanned weather reports. For thunderous surf recordings he raced to south-facing beaches in the aftermath of storms. For gentler tides, he strove to capture the wave action in one continuous track. Should a jet fly over, he sighed heavily, then started again. This is not an art form for the impatient.

Mr. Eudenback, who is also a sailboat captain, met his future wife, painter Jessica Pisano, when she worked a few years ago at her father and stepmother’s Belushi Pisano Gallery on Beach Road in Vineyard Haven. Michael and Jessica married in 2009 at the Whaling Church, and while they reside in Middletown — near Newport — in Rhode Island, they’re often on the Island for visits with family. And of course beaches.

Also a photographer, Mr. Eudenback has exhibited his photographs at the Dragonfly and Belushi Pisano galleries, and currently in Cohasset and Chatham. Ms. Pisano has a show coming up of her paintings this August at the Field Gallery in West Tisbury.

Meanwhile, Mr. Eudenback’s CD of Ocean Sounds beckons to the impulse buyer with one of his photos of South Beach: It’s a lyrically blue, lacy white, and gold day: gold for the sand, lacy white for the frothy wavelets, pale turquoise for the close-in shallows, indigo blue for the Atlantic Ocean, and a flag-blue sky that informs all the colors below.

Mr. Eudenback said in a recent phone interview that the recordings are aimed at yoga practitioners who normally groove to the sounds of nature, as surround sound for surfers (“They turn it up high!”) when they’re trapped indoors, and as background feed for anyone far from this beloved Island who needs a tune-up from its wonders. But principally, it’s a tool for sleep.

The time had come for this reporter to test out the sleep dynamics of the Ocean Sounds CD. I happen to be an insomniac of epic proportions. Even as a small child, I often lay awake in bed watching the ruffling lights of far-away cars on my ceiling. When I complained to my mother that I rarely slept, she said, “Resting is just as healthful as sleeping.” OK, so I’ve spent my life resting.

I plugged in my CD player near the bed, turned Ocean Sounds on low (in case Linda Ronstadt dropped by for a late-night chat), put on my jammies and crawled under the covers with a book.

The sounds of the softly licking waves — the first 11-minute cut is from West Chop — includes ever-so-nuanced gurgles of water, almost like a fountain, only even sweeter. I read a few pages from the book, sinking deeply, hypnotically into a mound of pillows. I was out in no time, with no recollection of setting the novel aside or of turning out the light.

I slept through the night without waking up once: a new personal best. This works, my fellow and sister insomniacs. I intend to buy a few more copies of Mr. Eudenback’s CD before supplies run out. Look for them in the bookstores and assorted gift shops on the Island. The CD can also be purchased on eBay, Amazon and iTunes, and from theoceansounds.com.

And you know who else should stock them? Physicians, both allopathic and naturopathic, that’s who.

 

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Well-known banjo players Abigail Washburn and Béla Fleck will perform at the Performing Arts Center on Wednesday night. — Photo by Jim McGuire

Béla Fleck, widely recognized as one of the world’s most proficient and technically skilled banjo players, will be performing with his wife, clawhammer banjo specialist, singer, and songwriter Abigail Washburn, at the Martha’s Vineyard Performing Arts Center at the high school on Wednesday, April 15.

The Vineyard has hosted skilled banjo players in the past, like Richie Stearns, Jake Shepps, and the Old Crow Medicine Show, but this performance is a unique opportunity to see, here on the Island, a superb banjo picker, songwriter, and composer, and one of the world’s most celebrated musicians. The show is produced by Phil daRosa’s The Print Shop Presents (TPS), and was rescheduled from April 14 due to the annual town meetings.

In his mid-50s, Mr. Fleck has been experimenting with his musical sound since he was given his first banjo by his grandfather at the age of 15. He spent his childhood in New York and moved to Boston after high school, where he developed his skills playing the streets. After performing with several other bands he eventually joined the influential New Grass Revival, and later formed Béla Fleck and the Flecktones in 1988. The Flecktones was an instrumental group whose music was primarily a fusion of bluegrass, jazz, and rock.

Mr. Fleck is a master of many genres, from bluegrass and newgrass to rock, jazz, and classical, and he has recorded duets with notable musicians from each genre. He has played with musicians from across the world, in every continent, and in the process he’s won 15 Grammy awards and accumulated over 30 nominations. He has been nominated in more categories than any other musician — across country, pop, jazz, bluegrass, classical, folk, spoken word, composition, and arrangement. Mr. Fleck has shared Grammy wins with Asleep at the Wheel, Alison Brown, and Edgar Meyer.

His most recent album is a 2014 collaboration with his wife entitled Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn (Rounder Records). Prior to that he composed and recorded a classical concerto for banjo on an album titled The Imposter.

The multitalented Ms. Washburn, born in Illinois, is an accomplished banjo player and songwriter in her own right, and a singer who specializes in American roots tunes with a folksy voice that ranges from haunting to the sublime. She has drawn critical acclaim for her solo albums, and has worked in folk musical diplomacy in China, where she taught and toured. She speaks Mandarin, which she studied in college, and has recorded and written songs in Chinese.

On a 2005 trip to China with cellist Ben Sollee, Mr. Fleck, and Grammy-nominated fiddler Casey Driessen, Ms. Washburn and friends called themselves the Sparrow Quartet, and the journey resulted in an EP, Abigail Washburn & The Sparrow Quartet. At the request of the U.S. government, the Sparrow Quartet toured Tibet in 2006 and performed in Beijing during the 2008 Olympics.

Ms. Washburn also volunteered to help with Sichuan quake relief in China in 2008, and produced a benefit EP as a fundraiser the following year, with Shanghai Restoration Project’s David Liang, called Afterquake.

In 2013 Ms. Washburn debuted her first theatrical performance piece in New York, Post-American Girl, about an American girl coming of age in a swiftly changing global order. It featured folk arts of China and Appalachia in shadow puppetry, sacred harp song, and traditional music, as well as new musical compositions.

For their latest album, Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn, the couple recorded in their home and produced the record themselves, which debuted at No. 1 on the Billboard Bluegrass charts. The pair, who were married in 2009, include several songs on the album that were no doubt influenced by their experiences as new parents to their son, Juno, who will be 2 next month. While appearing on PBS’s Tavis Smiley show last year, Mr. Fleck said his then 8-month-old had not taken up the banjo yet, but was learning to play keyboards.

Some proceeds from Wednesday’s concert will benefit the Island Collaborative, a nonprofit established to facilitate collaborations between Islanders and Island groups including businesses, schools, local government, and individuals. Additionally, the concert is sponsored by the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown, which is offering a package-rate overnight special including tickets to the show.

Mr. daRosa said he hopes to produce more shows with well-known artists in the future. “I’m working heavily on MV Sound No. 2 right now. We are in fundraising mode, and I’m putting out feelers to bigger artists to participate.” The first Martha’s Vineyard Sound Festival, a two-day celebration of music, food, and culture at Waban Park in Oak Bluffs in July of last year, was a critical success, according to Mr. daRosa. “I’m hoping that this year will be two days full of fun. We have a lot of great ideas. We plan to incorporate yoga at the park, and are teaming up with The Yard on some dance ideas. It will again benefit the Island Collaborative.”

An Evening with Béla Fleck and Abigail Washburn, Wednesday, April 15, 6 pm at the Martha’s Vineyard High School Performing Arts Center. Tickets are $35 in advance, $45 day of show, and may be purchased online from the TBS website, tpspresents.com, or by calling 800-838-3006.

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Despite winter-weather challenges, Community Chorus is ready for spring concerts.

The Island Community Chorus rehearses with saxophonist Steve Tully and accompanist Garrett Brown on piano. — Photo by Nis Kildegaard

It’s been a bumpy semester of rehearsals for the Island Community Chorus: Three times director Peter Boak had to cancel a Monday practice because of winter storms. Gamely, the singers attended two make-up Saturday rehearsals in March, and this week, Mr. Boak declares himself confident that his chorus of more than 90 voices is ready to perform at the group’s spring concerts this weekend.

“We’ve had our challenges this year,” Mr. Boak admits. “But because this music is so accessible, we’ve been able to get over the notes quickly so we could spend most of the semester concentrating on making music, going after the nuances.”

The choir’s program for this Saturday and Sunday features four works by the contemporary Norwegian-American choral composer Ola Gjeilo — music that has never been performed by the chorus before. Garrett Brown, the choir’s longtime accompanist, first brought Mr. Gjeilo’s work to the director’s attention.

“I’m always skeptical at first when I hear about a contemporary composer,” says Mr. Boak. “I’m just afraid they’re going to write all this modern stuff that’s dissonant and strange. But to find a contemporary composer writing not only beautiful music, but also harmonious and accessible — this isn’t the sort of music where you spend the first weeks of rehearsals just getting your choristers to like it. It’s appealing music from the start, so that people want to learn it and work with it.”

Island Community Chorus saxophone soloist Steve Tully. — Photo by Nis Kildegaard
Island Community Chorus saxophone soloist Steve Tully. — Photo by Nis Kildegaard

Mr. Gjeilo’s music draws on his childhood recollections of the Norwegian landscape — one of the most haunting pieces is “Northern Lights,” which evokes what the composer calls “the terrible, powerful beauty” of the aurora borealis. Another is “Across the Vast, Eternal Sky,” a piece written collaboratively with the poet Charles A. Silvestri, its musical theme a rising line that echoes the ascendance of the morning sun.

Mr. Gjeilo is a composer who clearly loves the sound of human voices, and exploring their interplay with instrumental music. In addition to the piano accompaniment of Garrett Brown, this weekend’s concerts will feature saxophone improvisation by Steve Tully, and a string quartet which includes Island musicians Stephen and Susan McGhee.

Completing the concert program are works by Morten Lauridsen, Edvard Grieg, and Antonin Dvorak (the only non-Scandinavian in the lineup). Says Mr. Boak: “Everyone knows Dvorak’s ‘Going Home,’ but all of this music is so accessible that even if people haven’t heard it before, they’ll feel as if they know it.”

Three weeks ago, when the director announced that this spring concert will be performed not in the Performing Arts Center as originally planned, but in the Old Whaling Church, the members of the Island Chorus responded with applause. Peter Boak wasn’t surprised.

SONY DSC — Photo by Nis Kildegaard
Island Community Chorus director Peter Boak — Photo by Nis Kildegaard

“People just love that space. They like the sound of the space, and the physical beauty of it. And because the choir is smaller this term, as it generally is in the spring semester, I think we would have been swallowed up in the Performing Arts Center.”

Swallowed up not only physically, but also sonically: The acoustics in the PAC are not ideal. “Unfortunately,” says Mr. Boak, “we’re living in a time when the solution to everything is just to amplify it. The feeling is that if you get the mikes in the right place, you can fix anything. But there are those of us whose ears like acoustic sound — natural, unaltered sound.” And for that natural acoustic sound, he agrees, the Old Whaling Church is the gold standard on Martha’s Vineyard.

There’s an arc to a single musical phrase, and an arc to a semester of choral rehearsal — even a semester as punctuated by snowstorms as this one has been. And as every semester of rehearsal nears its end, if everyone works hard enough, there come those goosebump moments when the emotional force of great choral music first begins to emerge. It’s not about merely getting the notes right — that happens earlier on. It’s about allowing a crescendo to build as it should, and then falling back to a pianissimo that’s quiet, but every bit as intense. It’s about balancing voices to each other, and in the last weeks it’s about singing the whole program straight through as the director envisioned it, then waking in the morning with a favorite concert melody playing in the mind’s ear, and finally it’s the thrill of taking to the concert stage and sharing the fruits of three months’ work with your audience in the Island’s finest musical space.

The spring concerts of the Island Community Chorus will be presented at 7:30 pm Saturday, April 11, and at 3 pm on Sunday, April 12, at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown. Admission is a suggested donation of $15 at the door.

Nis Kildegaard is an occasional writer for the Times and a singer in the chorus since 2005.