First Presbyterian Church Spartanburg’s Chamber Singers will present their annual Christmas Concert -- Tidings of Comfort and Joy -- in Chapman Cultural Center’s theater in Spartanburg, SC, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, starting at 7 p.m.
The 30-member choir will sing 13 holiday songs, many without accompaniment and all without any electronic amplification. Because of the 500-seat theater’s unique and excellent acoustics, there is no need for amplification. As a result, many of the songs will be heard as they were originally written to be performed in small and intimate concert halls.
“We strive for vocal excellence,” Director Holt Andrews said. “This music will be as vocally pure as we can possibly make it. It is our intention to touch people with the Christmas spirit in the most honest and sincere way — by giving them songs that will cause them to wonder in awe at the spiritual power this music can inspire. We want to touch them emotionally with the true beauty and meaning of Christmas.”
Most of the songs will be classical, sacred, and creatively arranged to appeal to both serious music lovers and those looking for an alternative to the commercialization of Christmas. The evening with start with a traditional chant by the men who will be in the balcony. The women will be on the stage, and in between will be the seated patrons, surrounded by voices that were carefully chosen for their exceptional quality. Members of the choir are selected by audition on their voice quality and musical ability.
Two of the songs are especially noted for being arranged by local professional musicians. A jazzy version of “The Holly And The Ivy,” arranged by Brennan Szafron, and a jazzy/gospel-like version of “Go Tell It On The Mountain,” arranged by John Moody will be highlights of the evening. Szafron is a teacher at Converse College’s Alia Lawson Academy of the Arts and the organist and choirmaster at Episcopal Church of the Advent. Moody teaches Advanced Placement Music Theory and Music Technology and is the Music Department Chair at Spartanburg High School.
“This is probably our most varied Christmas concert in the history of the choir,” Andrews said. “Most songs will be classical, but the arrangements will give them new appeal… surprising, upbeat, and engaging.”
Because of the choir’s emphasis on vocal excellence, only eight of the scheduled songs will have musical accompaniment by Greenville harpist Aubrey Elliot and Spartanburg pianist Marcia Andrews. “We love having both Aubrey and Marcia accompanying us, and they will be most valuable when we invite the audience to sing along with some popular and traditional Christmas songs,” Andrews said. “We feel it is important to provide the very best in vocal selections and to engage the audience and let them share in the spirit of the season. It’s just not a proper Christmas concert unless the audience gets to sing, too.”
In addition to the Christmas concert at Chapman Cultural Center, the Chamber Singers will also present selections from that concert at other events, including their Sunday, Nov. 20, engagement at the Biltmore House in Asheville, NC. For 24 years, the Chamber Singers have been invited to perform at Biltmore as part of the historic home’s annual Candlelight Tours, which draws thousands of tourists during the holiday season. “We consider it to be an honor to be invited year after year,” Andrews said.
Also, some of the songs will be performed in the church’s chapel on Sunday, Dec. 18, as part of the annual “Moravian Love Feast.”
“Even though we perform throughout the year, Christmas is our busiest season,” Andrews said.
The church’s Chamber Singers ensemble was originally formed in 1977 with six members. It quickly grew to become one of the Upstate’s most respected and accomplished choirs. Its members include many local professional musicians, as well as people who are considered to be “serious musicians,” such as Virginia Shuler, who continues to hone her craft by taking one-on-one voice lessons, in addition to the weekly Sunday night choir practice.
“We take the Chamber Singers very seriously,” Shuler said. “But only because we enjoy it and the people who listen to the music enjoy it. Sometimes, I look out into the audience and see people’s faces and know we are touching them. We can feel it, and the audience can feel it. Singing is an art form to be shared, and we want to share our music with the citizens of this community. In a very real way, this Christmas concert is a gift to the Upstate.”
Tickets to the Chapman concert are available through the Church and through Mobile Meals, which will be the recipient of concert’s proceeds. Tickets are $15 each and can be purchased by calling 864-583-4531 or 864-573-7684.