Thursday December 9, 2010

BRATTLEBORO -- One of the area's most popular holiday programs, Nowell Sing We Clear, featuring Tony Barrand, Fred Breunig, Andy Davis and John Roberts, will be presented again this year at the Latchis Theatre.

At 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 13, the rollicking sounds of mid-winter carols will ring through the Connecticut River Valley. Advance tickets are $20, $15 for seniors and children under 12, and are available at Maple Leaf Music on Elliot Street (no phone calls, please), www.brattleborotix.com, or by mail (send check or money order c/o Breunig, 126 Prospect St. Brattleboro VT 05301). Tickets at the door will be $22 and $17. For more information, visit www.latchis.com/liveEvents.php or call 802-254-9019.

Nowell Sing We Clear celebrates the mid-winter season as it was known for centuries in Britain and North America. The songs come from an age when this time of year was a time for joyous celebration and vigorous expression of older, perhaps pagan, religious ideas. Many of these ancient customs are the basis of today's holiday traditions, such as carol singing from door-to-door and the adorning of houses and churches with garlands of evergreen.

The first half of the program, "The Prince of Peace," celebrates the birth of Jesus as told in the vigorous carols and songs found in the folk traditions of Britain and North America.


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"The Twelve Days," the second half, offers carols heard in the Twelve Magic Days following the winter solstice. An annual feature is the enactment of a Mummers Play from Kentucky. Performed in the traditional manner, the play is typical of folk dramas which survive to this day throughout Britain and North America portraying the death of the land at mid-winter and its subsequent rebirth in the spring. Mummers plays often have political references, so the question always becomes, "Who will Tony be this year?"

The pageant of mid-winter carols is stamped with the energetic dance band sound of fiddle, accordion, concertina and piano, although many of the songs are performed in unaccompanied four-part harmony. The audience will be supplied with song sheets and encouraged to sing along.

Nowell Sing We Clear has become an important part of the mid-winter celebrations of many New England families since it was first performed in 1975. A number of area schools incorporate material from the pageant into their holiday concerts, and many area children have grown up with the group's songs and carols. In fact, some of those "children" are now having families of their own and are bringing them to the concerts creating a third generation of Nowell fans.

The group has traveled extensively over the years, as far south as Charlottesville, Va., and west to Ann Arbor, Mich. Nowell Sing We Clear regularly criss-crosses New England and New York every December. This year they will be traveling west to Binghamton, N.Y., and south to Washington, D.C., where they will be performing at the Kennedy Center's Millennium Stage. They will also be appearing locally in Dublin, N.H., this Friday. Visit www.monadnockfolk.org.

The groups' seven recordings are popular items in many households at this time of year. A compilation of the first three (originally on vinyl) are available as "The Best of Nowell Sing We Clear, 1975-1986." The later titles are "Nowell Sing We Four," "Hail Smiling Morn," "Just Say Nowell" and their most recent, "Nowell, Nowell, Nowell." All CDs will be available at the concert on Dec. 13 or can be obtained from Golden Hind Music (www.goldenhindmusic.com/).

Nowell Sing We Clear is performed by John Roberts and Tony Barrand, widely known for their lively presentation of English folk songs, and Fred Breunig and Andy Davis, well-known New England-style dance callers and musicians. Roberts lives Schenectady, N.Y., and maintains a full schedule of solo performances throughout the year in addition to his work with Barrand and the group. The other three members are all Brattleboro residents. Barrand retired this year from his position as University Professor at Boston University and is a highly respected folk dance teacher and scholar. Davis teaches music at Oak Grove, Green Street, and Dover Elementary schools. Breunig is publications coordinator for World Learning.

For more information about Nowell Sing We Clear's Brattleboro concert, call 802-254-9019. Paid tickets will be held at the door. Information about the rest of the group's tour may be found at www.sover.net/~barrand/schedule.html.