Island Community Chorus sings at Tabernacle

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The Island Community Chorus sings three concerts every year. Arguably the most magical of them comes on the evening when we in the choir mark the end of another 10 months of singing together, just as the Island’s summer community begins their season here.

At the Tabernacle on Saturday evening, June 30, we’ll look out from the stage into a hall filled with summer families fresh off the ferries. We’ll sing our best for them, and afterwards we’ll say our goodbyes to fellow choristers we’ve rehearsed with every Monday night since last September, disbanding until after Labor Day – while in the audience, folks are saying their hellos, reconnecting with old friends at the opening of their Island time together.

“It’s like a passing of the torch, isn’t it?” says Peter Boak, director of the Community Chorus.

Mr. Boak says that for him, part of the magic is the Tabernacle itself, a venue that has echoed with music at the heart of the Campground since 1879.

“Performing at the Tabernacle is like coming home,” he says. “It really hit me this year, because it’s the first time I’ve attended a high school graduation there. To see the kids walking into the Tabernacle — there’s a certain magic about it. I feel the same way when the Chorus takes the stage to sing: it’s like being embraced by something that’s been there since before our lifetimes, this place so full of memories, and now it’s continuing to make new memories for everybody.”

Robert Cleasby arrived on Monday for his 22nd year as program director for the Martha’s Vineyard Campmeeting Association, just in time for the Island Chorus’s rehearsal at the Tabernacle. Opening the association’s program season with the Chorus has become a tradition, and Mr. Cleasby likes it that way.

“The Chorus is special because it’s Islanders, first of all,” Mr. Cleasby says. “These are Island artists performing together. And the setting is one-of-a-kind. Where else do you get an ambience and acoustics like the Tabernacle? Nowhere.”

Mr. Cleasby’s off-season home is in Pawtuxet, R.I., on the southern outskirts of Providence. There, he was artistic director and conductor of the West Bay Chorale and Orchestra in Warwick for 18 years. And each summer on the Island, he still serves as director of the Tabernacle Choir. So he has a special admiration for Peter Boak and his work with a community choir that requires no auditions, only the promise of regular attendance at rehearsals.

“A non-audition chorus is able to bring people in who love to hear singing, and would like to try it,” Mr. Cleasby says, although it does pose special challenges for the director. He observes with a laugh, “Peter has a remarkable amount of hair, for somebody who could have torn his hair out.”

Mr. Boak selects this concert program with an eye to the festive setting and to the Independence Day holiday. “I like to think of this as more of a pops concert — not that it’s watered-down music, but it’s music for the Fourth of July weekend, lighter and more entertaining,” he says.

The concert promises a mix of music familiar and new, patriotic and just plain fun – from Gilbert & Sullivan to Irish folksongs and even a rousing gospel number. At this opening event of the season, there’s no set admission charge; a free-will offering will benefit the Chorus and the Campmeeting Association.

It’s the perfect program, at the perfect time and in the perfect place, says Mr. Cleasby. “It’s the beginning of the summer, the kickoff event for us, and the Tabernacle was designed acoustically for groups like this. It’s the perfect venue for the Island Community Chorus, and we love to highlight indigenous Island music on the Campground.”

Island Community Chorus in concert at the Tabernacle, directed by Peter Boak and accompanied by L. Garrett Brown, at 8 pm, Saturday, June 30. A free will offering will be taken.

Nis Kildegaard is a regular contributor to the Times and a six-year singer in the choir.