Friends of Music at Guilford’s 44th annual holiday program at Christ Church, the iconic New England landmark along Rt. 5 in Guilford, Vt., is set for December 16 and 17. Performances on Friday at 7:30 and Saturday at 4:00 p.m. will include vocal music, instrumental interludes, a holiday story, and a brief carol sing, the traditional format. The “O, Happy Yule!” subtitle refers to this season’s thematic choice of Music from the British Isles.
The Guilford Chamber Singers, under the direction of Tom Baehr for a fifth season, present ten a cappella seasonal songs from England, Ireland, and Wales. These span several centuries and are interspersed with instrumental selections played by the Guilford Chamber Players under the direction of Amy Cann.
Highlights of the song collection include Gustav Holst’s arrangement of poet Christina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter”; William Blake’s poem “The Lamb,” set by contemporary composer Philip Orem; and the early 20th-century “Past Three O’Clock,” based on a watchman’s nighttime cry and arranged a few years ago by Clif Hardin. Traditional Irish and Welsh lullabies are tender counterpoint to Alice Parker Pyle and Robert Shaw’s dynamic arrangement of the English carol “The Holly and the Ivy,” which rounds out the choral offerings.
The Chamber Singers include sopranos Catie Berg, Christina Gibbons, and Robin Wolf; altos Jenny Holan, Laurie Schneski, and Joy Wallens-Penford; tenors Paul Cooper, Steven John, and Peter Tracy; and basses Peter Abell, Orion Barber, Calvin Farwell, and Tom Green.
Don McLean, featured reader at these gatherings since the outset, is eager to introduce the Friends of Music audience to “A Church Mouse” by prominent American author Mary Wilkins Freeman (1852-1930), known for her skill at incorporating local color in her work. Chiefly known for her characterization of life in New England, she was a resident of Brattleboro from the age of 15 to 21, and graduated from Brattleboro High School. Mary was known to have visited an aunt in Guilford’s Green River village, so Don imagines she was familiar with the prominent view of Christ Church ahead as her coach turned the corner into Guilford Center Road on those journeys.
In spite of the story’s title, which might lead one to assume it involves a furry little protagonist, “A Church Mouse” is rather about a woman who finds herself suddenly homeless and has to figure out how to cope, a situation faced by many of our neighbors in Windham County. Don McLean’s considerable skill with verbal characterization promises to bring this entertaining and poignant country tale to life for listeners.
Following the story, Amy Cann will wrangle the corner pump organ for three carols with those assembled before the tolling tower bell signals the evening’s close.
Because the building’s furnace needs to be turned off during these performances, the overall length is planned to be less than an hour and a half. Dress warmly and consider bringing a lap blanket if the weather is especially cold.
The charming “Carolling Mice” graphic used on posters for this year’s holiday program was used by permission of the artist, Shona M. MacDonald, a resident of Newcastle Upon Tyne in England. The mice will also be available on blank greeting cards for sale in FOMAG's holiday boutique. Other winter card designs, including William Hays' prints of Christ Church and Centre Church in Brattleboro, as well as some CDs and totes, will be available.
Admission is free, but generous door donations are encouraged since they
will be divided between Friends of Music and the Christ Church
Preservation Fund for the church’s maintenance and heating costs.