Musica Viva opens its 32nd season with Valley pieces
Posted: December 13, 2012
The Winchester Star
Winchester — The Winchester Musica Viva chamber choir is heralding Christmas again with a look back at the history of the Shenandoah Valley.
The 22-member group will offer a repeat performance of “They Brought Christmas with Them” to open its 32nd season and to help usher in the holidays, said Ken Nafziger, artistic director.
The group will perform at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Trinity Episcopal Church in Upperville and at 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday at Grace Evangelical Lutheran Church in Winchester. Tickets cost $15 at the door.
“They Brought Christmas With Them” was first performed last December and included arrangements of music from the Europeans who settled in the Shenandoah Valley, said Melody Harmon, a singer and member of the board of directors. The settlers came from England, Ireland and Germany, bringing their traditions to a new land.
The concert was so well-received that the choir recorded the music this fall and will release the first copies of the CD this weekend, she said. “They Brought Christmas with Them” costs $15.
Georgiann Toole, a longtime choir member, did most of the arrangements for the performances, so the group was playing music no one else had, Harmon said.
“The arrangements of these tunes were so unique that we felt they needed to be redone,” she said. “It was such a good lineup of music both stylistically and culturally.”
Most of the songs will be performed a cappella, but two of the pieces will feature musicians, Harmon said.
Violinist Emma Watts will accompany the choir on violin for “Ag Criost an Siol” along with pianist Yongsook Baber and for “The Mist Covered Mountains of Home.”
Valley residents have a strong historical interest in this music, Nafziger said.
“This is something that is specifically their heritage and unique to the people who settled here,” he said. “I think it was a matter of pride, especially for the choir, to have music that nobody else had access to except us.”
What he liked about the concert was that it was much more “an experiential thing” than it was “a thing about titles or repertoire.”
“It was engaging in a way that music alone can do,” Nafziger said.
Still, the concert has some amazing individual pieces, said Marty Mayfield, president of the board and the only founding member still in the group.
This performance will be the premiere of a new arrangement by Toole called “To Drive the Cold Winter Away,” he said. “It is kind of a jazzy piece. It is definitely an updated version of an old song.”
Other pieces Toole arranged are “Hark! Hark, Glad Tidings Charm Our Ears,” “How Splendid Shines the Morning Star,” “Hab Ich Einen Durst” and “Ye Sons of Men, With Me Rejoice.”
“The Parting Glass,” another of her arrangements, is a traditional Celtic tune often sung at the end of a gathering of friends, Harmon said. Singing the song at Sunday’s rehearsal was an emotional moment for her husband Jim, a longtime member who is battling a malignant brain tumor.
“It has been a very tough road thus far and it is not over,” she said. “The music has been what has sustained him — his music and his faith.”
The beauty of the concert is that it runs the gamut from the biblical story of Christmas to “something totally unhinged like a German drinking song” but still manages to create a sense of unity, Nafziger said.
That unity will spread to the audience when it is asked to join the choir in singing a few of the songs, he said. He always favors blurring whatever lines he can between performers and audience members “to make things more interactive.”
He hopes that when audience members leave, they will be better prepared to enjoy the holiday season than they were when they came, Nafziger said.
With the range of music, he wants all listeners to find something they like — “whether it the tender or raucous or whatever it is that happens to touch their emotions, their souls and their imaginations.”
Musica Viva is comprised of singers from many professions and backgrounds who share a love of choral music and a commitment to excellence in performance, said Mayfield, who lives in Millwood. The singers range in age from 19 to 82.
Since it was started in 1981, the choir’s mission has been to create artistic and cultural opportunities for musicians and the community that offer education, entertainment and enrichment through diverse choral music, he said.
Tickets for the Christmas concerts can be purchased at the door for $15. Students with identification and children under 10 are admitted free. Season subscriptions for all of Musica Viva’s concerts will be available for $35.
— Contact Laura McFarland at firstname.lastname@example.org.