A good many people, some 75 in fact, are putting a lot of work into bringing us what is sure to be a great deal of holiday cheer. The Island Community Chorus, founded in 1996, is a beloved Vineyard cultural institution, as is its traditional kick-off to the upcoming festive season — an annual Holiday Concert, which will take place at the Old Whaling Church at 7:30 pm on Saturday, Dec. 3, and again in a matinee performance at 3 pm on Sunday, Dec. 4.
The chorus has rehearsed an enticing program of holiday music on Monday evenings since September with William Peek, the new music director after director emeritus Peter R. Boak retired following last summer’s July 4 concert. Peek has served as the music director and organist for the First Congregational Church of West Tisbury since 2017 — in addition to doing the same for the summer services at Union Chapel since 2013.
“It couldn’t please me more, the rapport and relationship and warmth between Bill and the chorus in both directions — him to them and them to him,” says chorus board president Nis Kildegaard. “It’s a new chapter and we’re off to a terrific start together. Working with him is such a treat.”
The chorus will perform a program of holiday music that features both familiar and less frequently heard works. Music includes the premiere performance of Peek’s recently composed setting of Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening.” Reflecting on the first run-through of the entire piece, Kildegaard shares, “It just took our breath away. It’s so beautiful and harmonically rich.” The chorus has performed premieres before, “But,” says Kildegaard, “it’s really a treat to be singing a piece for the first time for the public and being directed by the man who wrote it.”
The selection of holiday music ranges from Mendelson and Bach to “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” in a jazz arrangement. There are also a number of carols from different traditions such as a French song from Argentina, appropriately called “Christmas in Summer.” There is a West Indian spiritual sung acapella called “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy.”
“It is upbeat, sprightly. It’s like a cup of good coffee,” Kildegaard says.
The audience will also be treated to another bright and joyful work, “Neighbors, on This Frosty Tide,” by Joan Morris and William Bolcom. The carol takes its text from “The Wind in the Willows” by author Kenneth Graham.
“The Chorus has been working hard. It’s a wonderfully enthusiastic group of people and I think we’ve been having a good time,” Peek says. “We’re really looking forward to the concert.”
The chorus’ website explains that community singing has a long Island history, but there was a gap of years in concert performances until Peter Boak came along. Then in 1996, a group of singers who were looking to perform varied and interesting works — along with Boak — formed the Island Community Chorus and formally incorporated two years later. In the true spirit of an amateur choir, auditions are not required nor is the ability to read music necessary. They rehearse weekly at Trinity Church. “We get together every Monday at 7 pm for two hours, and it’s the shortest two hours of the week,” Kildegaard says.
Looking ahead, Kildegaard says, “We are planning something really special for the spring concert. I can’t announce it yet, but it’s an ambitious program and we are going to be sending out a notice to the community that if you’ve been thinking about being involved in choral singing, this would be a great opportunity to join for one term. It’s a way to sample us off-season. It’s a 12-week commitment to see if you connect with the joy of choral singing and a chance to perform one of the great pieces from the choral repertoire.”
Kildegaard began in the chorus in 2006 and says, “A lot of people have been with us for twenty years or more. Once they join and experience the joy of singing, it’s a pretty powerful thing. It’s a great experience . . . and I’m hoping it’s a great experience for our audiences.”
The Island Community Chorus’ Holiday Concert, Saturday, Dec. 3, at 7:30 pm and Sunday, Dec. 4 at 3 pm at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown. Tickets are sold at the door. Suggested donations are $20, although they never turn anyone away, and children attend free of charge.