December 3, 2013
The University of Mary is ringing in the birth of Jesus with its annual Christmas at Mary Concerts, Saturday, Dec 7, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 8, at 3 p.m., on campus in Our Lady of the Annunciation Chapel. The seasonal celebration will come alive with featured performances by the Concert Choir and Vocal Jazz under the direction of Dr. Tom Porter, the Gabrieli Brass, under the direction of Dennis Gowen, and the Percussion Group under the direction of Dr. Lucas Bernier.
The concert will provide a mix of traditional and familiar holiday favorites, beginning with a rousing spiritual piece, "Mary Had a Baby." "Magnificat", by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, is a contemporary composition that uses a unique technique called "little bells" in which one voice sustains a single pitch and another dances around it in a stepwise motion to create an effect similar to wind chimes.
Some of the more familiar selections include "Breath of Heaven" by Amy Grant and performed by the women of the choir. The text of the song speaks from the standpoint of Mary — not fully knowing if she is worthy of the role for which she has been chosen, and praying to be held together by the breath of heaven. The men of the choir will perform a contemporary a cappella version of the traditional carol, "The First Nowell," made popular by the Men of Note. Others include "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas," "Joy to the World" and "O Come, All Ye Faithful."
Vocal Jazz, a 10-member a cappella group, will join the concert with the traditional carol, "Ring Christmas Bells," followed by an a cappella arrangement of Ben Harper's hit tune "Waiting for an Angel," and a contemporary take on two traditional carols, "We Three Kings," and "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."
"The audience will enjoy the beauty of Our Lady of the Annunciation Chapel as well as the beauty of the music, from chant to contemporary, from the new to the familiar," explained Porter. "The combination of choirs, brass and organ and percussion creates a spectacular event that many people look forward to as the beginning of their Christmas experience. The concert is a gift to the community from the University of Mary."
U-Mary Percussion Group, directed by Bernier, will add a Caribbean touch to the program with their own take on the traditional holiday tune, "Silver (Calypso) Bells."
In celebration of the 100th anniversary of his birth, the choir will also perform selections from Benjamin Britten's "Ceremony of Carols." The piece was originally written for boychoir and harp, but will be performed in the composer's version of mixed choir and piano.
"'Ceremony of Carols' by Benjamin Britten is a special feature of the concert," added Porter. "Britten wrote the piece while traveling from the United States back to England in 1942, and used Old English texts as the basis of his composition. The texts make use of wonderful imagery, from "Balulalow" (a lullaby), "the knees of my heart I shall bow," to the contrasting images of newborn child and leader of battle in "This Little Babe." Britten's lovely melodic lines and rich harmonies have delighted audiences for 70 years."
Gabrieli Brass, directed by Gowen, will feature University of Mary students and alumni performing an antiphonal selection by Italian composer Giovanni Gabrieli. The piece, featuring more than 30 brass players and organ, surrounds the audience in sound, with different "choirs" of instruments in different locations in the chapel.