Two years in the making for Island Community Chorus’ annual July 4 show

The Island Community Chorus prepares for their annual July 4th show. — Photo by Nis Kildegaard

Off and on, the Island Community Chorus has been rehearsing for this Saturday night’s concert at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs for the past 15 months. Explains Peter Boak, director of the choir: “Probably the most unique thing about this year’s concert is that it was supposed to be last year’s concert. We’ve been working on this music over two years, with two other concerts in between.”

Early last June, with rehearsals well underway for the choir’s annual concert on the weekend of Independence Day, Peter Boak had a serious health scare — one that left his doctors advising him to take it easy and avoid stress wherever possible for a while. He spoke with the Chorus board, a decision was made, and an announcement went out to all the singers: The July 2014 concert was scrubbed.

For the singers, it was a case of chorus interruptus: At that point in the rehearsal season where the melodies were coursing through our heads every day, suddenly we learned there wouldn’t be that moment of performance that brings closure to our semester of work together every Monday night.

For the director, it was a double-edged experience. “Part of canceling that concert for me was relief — here was one thing I didn’t have to worry about while I was trying to deal with what had happened to me physically,” recalls Mr. Boak. “But on the other hand, we’d all been living and breathing this music for a couple of months, and all of a sudden, we’re not going to get to sing it. I was really torn.”

Now the Island Chorus and its director are looking forward to sharing the rich musical program that the Tabernacle audience didn’t get to hear last year.

It’s been the choir’s tradition to make its July 4 show a concert in the Boston Pops mold, and this program is true to that. “I think it’s going to be a real audience pleaser,” says Mr. Boak. “But as Tabernacle concerts go from the choir’s point of view, I think this one is more challenging than what we normally do at this time of year. I mean, we’ve got four pieces that are quite lengthy — some of them are 40 pages long,” said Mr. Boak.

Indeed, each folder of the nearly 100 singers on the Tabernacle stage this Saturday night will be bulging with more than 150 pages of sheet music, including patriotic songs, tunes from Broadway, from the gospel tradition, and even an original composition by a member of the Island choir.

One highlight of Saturday’s program is a powerful setting of the famous war poem, “In Flanders Fields,” composed by Dorian Lopes, who sings in the tenor section of the Chorus. Says Mr. Boak: “Dorian just brought it to me and said, Would you like to look at this? It’s a really neat piece of music.”

An extended medley of songs from the musical “Guys and Dolls” (music and lyrics by Frank Loesser) will showcase some of the choir’s best voices in solo roles. Playing Runyonesque characters from the musical on Saturday will be singers Ken Romero, Molly Conole, Brad Austin, Jay Banks, and Bruce Llewellyn.

Wesley Brown will join his brother Garrett, the choir’s stalwart accompanist, for two pieces at the keyboard of the Tabernacle’s nine-foot Steinway grand, and violinist Rebecca Brand will accompany the choir in a delightful setting of the traditional tune “Home on the Range.”

Saturday’s program includes a pair of pieces by the great American composer Aaron Copland. Both are being performed by the Island Community Chorus for the first time. One of them, “The Promise of Living,” says Mr. Boak, “is part of an opera score that never got performed the way it was originally planned. It was written to be televised, and that never happened.”

For the singers in the Chorus, the annual Tabernacle concert is the only program performed just once, and it’s the only concert rehearsed twice. It’s fitting, somehow, that this concert program that almost didn’t happen should include an operatic piece that was almost never performed.

This weekend the Island Community Chorus concludes its 19th year of performances on the Island, even as it opens the 2015 season of Tabernacle concerts presented by the Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association. There’s no set admission charge; a freewill offering will be collected. An early starting time of 7:30 pm has been set so people who want to enjoy the music will still be able to catch the Fourth of July fireworks in Edgartown at dusk.

Nis Kildegaard is an occasional writer for the Martha’s Vineyard Times and a 10-year veteran of the Island Community Chorus.