Vineyard voices

Island Community Chorus offers an ambitious spring concert.

Island Community Chorus will perform a spring concert at the Old Whaling Church. — MV Times

It’s time to celebrate spring again as the Island Community Chorus (ICC) plans its concert. Founded in 1996, this beloved institution, some 70 voices strong, will perform at the Old Whaling Church in Edgartown this weekend under the musical leadership of William Peek. The program features the “Requiem in D minor,” Opus 48, by one of the leading French composers, Gabriel Fauré — one of the great masterpieces of choral literature. Peek says of the work, written between 1887 and 1890: “It’s a beautiful, brilliantly composed, sublime work written in the late 19th century. It’s one of the highest achievements of the choral arts.”

“There is a tradition of writing requiems using the Latin funeral Mass as a text, but this isn’t a funereal piece at all,” says ICC president Nis Kildegaard. “It’s really lyrical and filled with melodies. It’s got influences of Brahms. In some of its harmonies, it’s surprisingly modern. The chords that we’re singing presage jazz music. They’re remarkable.”

The chorus rehearses on Monday nights at Trinity Church in Oak Bluffs, and it’s been a long series of rehearsals. “We have been rehearsing since early January, which is a long stretch of rehearsals. But it’s one of the most challenging pieces the choir has ever undertaken, so the time has been well-spent,” Kildegaard says. “I don’t think we’ve ever done anything as ambitious. It gives us something satisfying to sink our teeth into. It’s more like the Sunday than the Tuesday crossword puzzle. We need that in the winter. It’s stimulating; it’s good for us. And it’s on some people’s bucket list music that is just a great experience to sing — challenging but entirely worthwhile.

“Some of the harmonies are particularly challenging because it breaks into five and six voices in many places. There are some passages that are so open that there is nowhere to hide. And the entire piece is sung in Latin. We are learning how to pronounce the Latin correctly.” But Kildegaard assures that there will be an English translation in the program.

He points out, too, “We are an amateur, no-audition chorus. I think it’s remarkable that we can do this with people who show up in order to sing with us. We have everyone from people who can’t read a note of music to those who have a master’s degree in performance singing from places like Yale.”

This year, the choir has engaged a small ensemble of professional musicians to accompany them. The instrumentalists are coming from off-Island, joined by two Vineyarders, harpist Sandra Atwood and rehearsal accompanist and keyboard player for the concert Molly Sturges. “This is an expensive undertaking for the chorus, because we don’t usually hire orchestras to work with us. We are supported by grants from the Martha’s Vineyard Cultural Council and the Farm Neck Foundation that have helped defray our costs, even though they are over-budget. We’re going into our savings because we thought this would be a special treat for the Island,” Kildegaard explains.

Unlike the “Requiem,” which is a fairly frequently performed work, “Six Choral Songs” by the English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams are less so. They were written in 1940. He wrote them at a time when England was in the depths of World War II, hoping to bring optimism to his country. The poems are by Percy Bysshe Shelley, an early 19th century poet. Among the six movements are “A Song of Courage,” “A Song of Healing,” “A Song of Pity, Peace, and Love,” and “A New Song of the New Age.”

“I think the work is intended to encourage optimism and hope in a difficult time,” Peek says.

Kildegaard shares, “Shelley was a pacifist/radical/free-love character. It’s a piece about courage and ending the war, and peace. It’s not dark music at all. It’s a remarkable set of compositions.”

Sopranos Molly Conole, Jenny Friedman, and Jessica Sanseverino will also offer a haunting Ukrainian lullaby, “Od Khodyt’ Son Kolo Vikon” (The Dream Passes by the Windows) as an a cappella trio, and Dorian Lopes will perform the well-known sacred aria “Panis Angelicus,” composed by Fauré’s older contemporary, César Franck.

The performances are on Saturday, April 29, at 7:30 pm, and Sunday, April 30, at 3 pm. The suggested donation for adults is $20, and children attend free. “We are really serious about calling it a donation because it really is a community chorus,” Kildegaard emphasizes. “We worked hard for 15 weeks, and now we want to share it with our family and friends and the wider community.”

“It’s a program with a lot of depth and profound music throughout,” Peek says. “I think it will be very enjoyable and beautiful. The choir has been working really hard on it, and I think it will be great.”

For more information about the Island Community Chorus, visit