Concert is a holiday highlight

Candlelight inspires this season’s Island Community Chorus holiday concert.

—Sam Moore

Island Community Chorus, one of the most beloved Vineyard organizations, celebrates the holidays at the Old Whaling Church, Saturday, Dec. 1, at 7:30 pm and Sunday, Dec. 2, at 3 pm.

Peter Boak, the chorus’ music director, known for his musical expertise, dignified presence, quiet wit, and disciplined process, brings the Island another innovative program. Pergolesi’s “Magnificat,” sung in Latin, delivers Baroque majesty to the evening. You may know Pergolesi’s masterpiece, “Stabat Mater.” Happily the “Magnificat” does not fail in comparison. Continuing, you’ll be entertained with two unique arrangements — “Hanerot Halalu,” a Hanukkah song performed in Hebrew, and a jazz version of “We Three Kings.” More traditional holiday favorites round out the performance. Boak reflects on how he got his inspiration: “During the summer, I was dreaming about what to do this season. Candles came to mind. Whatever one’s faith, they are a common denominator, and the image led me to this music.”

Love of music is the reason most people join the chorus. Some singers are highly trained professionals, others lifelong vocalists with careers outside music, still others simply enjoy the satisfying vibes singing provides. All appreciate the rigor Boak brings to his preparation, rehearsals, and conducting.

While the ensemble is a community group, professional standards are the norm. Pamela Butterick, a 16-year veteran, appreciates the way Boak accepts all skill levels. “We are exposed to fabulous music. Even those who don’t read music are welcome, singing side-by-side and shoulder-to-shoulder with more experienced vocalists,” Butterick said. “Peter directs like a laser beam, his heart filling his whole body, sometimes only an eyebrow employed. He’s patient, kind, and precise.”

Boak is very aware of the collaborative nature of the endeavor; the chorus includes 116 members, including this concert’s soloists — David Behnke, Jenny Friedman, Martha Hudson, and Dorian Lopes, and instrumentalists Molly Canole on flute, Rebecca Laird on violin, with Steve Tully on soprano sax. The central nervous system for the entire process is pianist Garrett Brown. “People don’t realize how difficult playing for a chorus can be,” Boak said. “There’s mastering one’s own playing, correcting vocal lines, keeping things in tune, and maintaining rhythmic accuracy. Garrett is the ear for the ensemble. We’re a good team.”

Boak is adventurous in his tastes, and he has something yummy up his sleeve for the April performance. The chorus will premier a new work for full chorus and soprano, composed by Thomas LaVoy, based on the writings of Nancy Luce. LaVoy, with no previous connection to the Island, happened upon a print by Daniel Waters, the popular Island poet and printmaker. The artwork featured chickens, à la Nancy Luce, the 19th century “Chicken Lady” eccentric. Intrigued and inspired, LaVoy’s lyrics are based on Luce’s writings. The chorus is one of a number of choruses that will perform the work at their home bases in 2019, including ensembles in the U.S., Scotland, and England.

Boak believes there has been a community chorus on the Island almost consecutively since the early 20th century. Twenty-two years ago, he was asked by a group of singers to restart a choir. He says, “I felt the chorus had been hibernating. I simply woke it up.”

About three years after Boak become director, the fledgling group was invited to Rhode Island to share a performance with a Warwick group. Off to the boat the Vineyarders schlepped, and then, on the American side, a waiting school bus. Boak had yet to suggest a dress code, and the Islanders arrived in their version of concert attire, including Birkenstocks and an overall decidedly ragtag look. Boak’s mind was racing: “We certainly looked like we had just got off the boat! Costuming notwithstanding, I was so proud of their musicality and singing.” The chorus now has a dress code.

Island Community Chorus holiday concert, Saturday, Dec. 1, 7:30 pm and Sunday, Dec. 2, at 3 pm at the Old Whaling Church, Edgartown. $15 suggested donation. Students and children are free. The public is invited to mingle with the chorus after the event, where refreshments will be served. For more Information visit