Trinity Methodist Church in the Oak Bluffs Campground was all aglow on Wednesday evening, December 17, a welcoming haven of serenity and loveliness for the 18th annual Reflections of Peace Concert. Held every Christmas season, the well-loved concert gathers many of the Island’s top musicians performing to benefit Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard.
Audience members arrived early, filling the pews, and quietly greeting friends and neighbors. The 1820s vintage church with its white walls, dark wood trim, and tall Tiffany-inspired windows, was adorned simply but brightly for the season. Candles glowed, an angel-topped tree sparkled with white lights, and evergreen wreaths, red bows, and a bouquet of red and white roses added Christmas color.
For many audience members, the concert is a yearly tradition, an evening of contemplative and uplifting music and community during the busy season. Many come not only for love of music, but also for love of Hospice, which has touched so many families.
Hospice director Terre Young welcomed the appreciative crowd, thanking all who contributed to the evening. “We couldn’t do it without you,” she said. “We make an important difference, and you are part of that difference.”
She reported gratefully that since its beginning Reflections of Peace has raised $50,945 for the organization, and she emphasized that all Hospice care is given for free.
“What makes this concert so special is the collection of beautiful musicians who work very, very hard at such a busy time of year to bring the community to a special place and give us this music with an intention of peace and calm,” Ms. Young said the following day. “They do it for Hospice; they understand how important we are to this community.”
The annual concert is a gift of love to Hospice and the community through the dedication of founders and producers Kevin and Joanne Ryan, and the generosity of the musicians who play for free.
Mr. Ryan, who also sang in the performance, said their intent is to benefit and bring public recognition to Hospice. He said that Hospice has been invaluable to his family during deaths of loved ones, so he knows its importance well. He added that musicians chose the selections with care, to fit the theme.
“This is a message of hope, a message of peace,” he said.
Lynne Whiting shared rich Hospice experiences as a recipient of comforting bereavement support then as a volunteer, deeply honored to care for her first patient. Later, the understanding she gained through Hospice helped during her mother’s death.
“I could not have done what I did with such grace if it had not been for Hospice training,” she said.
The exquisitely performed music expressed the caring and gentleness that is the essence of Hospice and it soothed the soul.
From the tone-setting meditation on “Of the Father’s Love Begotten” played by the gifted Brown brothers, Garrett and Wesley, effectively pairing the woodwind-voiced organ with bright, clear piano,to whispered notes of “Still, Still, Still” suspended in the air like snowflakes, the program was striking for its unusual selections. Many were refreshingly unfamiliar even to dedicated lovers of Christmas music. Those better known were set to innovative arrangements, making them shine like new.
Novem, the polished vocal octet was the mainstay of the program with guest musicians. The group opened with “Torches,” a rousing call to the manger on Christmas night in Bethlehem. For “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” Peter Boak twined piano lines from Beethoven’s Pathetique Sonata through the verses, a surprising and perfect match.
Mr. Boak, whose piano accompaniments were at once unobtrusive and glowing performances in themselves, sang in the first concert. He has taken part ever since, inspired by the joy the music brings to audiences, and the important work of Hospice.
“We’re walking in the air, we’re floating in the midnight sky,” fanciful lyrics from “The Snowman,” shimmered. Scored for four women’s voices, they conjured dreamy visions of a boy’s journey with the friendly snowman.
Shelly Brown and Joyce Maxner’s tinkling, delicate “Flower Duet” from Delibes’s opera Lakme was breathtaking, their clear voices joining with easy grace in close harmonies and challenging runs.
In “Wondrous Star” Jenny Friedman’s bell-like soprano floated around Brad Austin’s bass, conveying sweetly mysterious Christmas enchantment.
Other Novem artists included Julie Williamson, Ken Romero, Dorian Lopes, and Kevin Ryan.
Brian Weiland and his talented teens, Liam playing cello and Avalon harp, offered a trio of carols arranged by Mr. Weiland himself. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” was haunting, men’s voices trading lines, Liam’s cello a rich complement to his father’s guitar. Ms. Weiland’s harp added delicate texture to the Scottish “Aran Boat Song,” a modal, dance-like instrumental. “I Wonder as I Wander” evoked that night sky, long ago.
“Wassail” promised old-fashioned Yuletide revelry; “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” melded memory with hope. John Rutter’s lovely “Christmas Lullaby” was a sweetly sacred cradle song, a gentle, angelic hymn to the blessed mother and baby.
Finally, musicians and audience joined in a hushed, companionable singing of “Silent Night,” holding a promise of “heavenly peace” as they filed out into the Vineyard evening.