BRATTLEBORO >> When Joy-Wallens Penford took over as administrative director for Friends of Music at Guilford in 2007 it became clear to her that the annual Community Messiah Sing, one of their most widely attended events, then in its 37th year, was either losing money every year or at best bringing in only $300. But the annual sing was a popular holiday treat loved by music enthusiasts everywhere in the area, so rather than scrap it, she decided to turn it into a benefit for the homeless feeling that support from sponsors and audience donations toward a cause would boost incoming funds. After all, that is what Christmas is all about, helping those in need. It was a resounding success. Now in its 45th year, the Messiah Sing has brought in a total of nearly $13,500, divided between the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center and Morningside Shelter since 2007. These two organizations and its programs, now merged as one, the Groundworks Collaborative, will be the beneficiary of this year's collection at the door. Groundworks volunteers will be outside the church from about noon to 3 p.m. on Saturday accepting monetary donations from passersby, as well as bags of nonperishable food; winter clothing, outerwear, and blankets; and new, unwrapped toys from downtown shoppers and sing attendees. The sing will take place at 1 p.m. on Saturday at the Centre Congregational Church, 193 Main St., Brattleboro
A few soloists are arranged ahead of time, but as many as 250 or more singers arrive from the region voluntarily bring their voices and a copy of a Messiah vocal score, or borrow one at the door. Many volunteer singers show up every year, some show up for the first time, while others just come to listen to the beautiful music. Water is the only beverage allowed in the sanctuary; bottled water will be available for purchase at the door.
Penford described the Messiah Sing as an experience more than a performance.
The only paid participant is the organist, this year being William McKim, who has played the organ at this event for twenty-seven past seasons, and officially "retired" twice from doing so. He agreed to step in on short notice when UVM's David Neiweem, who played for the sing in 2014, broke a collarbone in late October. Every year singers converge at the church on the day of the sing, no rehearsals needed. Terry Larsen, a resident of Southampton, Mass., returns for a ninth season to lead the sing. Vocal soloists this year are all sing veterans. Soprano Margery McCrum first sang at this event in 1992, then in three other seasons through 2004, and has been featured in several other Friends of Music programs; she performs as singer and soloist for regional choral groups and teaches voice in Brattleboro. Alto Justina Golden was also featured in four prior sings, most recently last season.
This year's tenor is James Anderson, who performed for the sing in 2005 and 2006, previously enjoying a long career in Europe as an operatic leading man and now teaches voice, performs in a variety of concert settings, and directs musical productions for New England Youth Theatre. Returning to perform the bass solos is Cailin Marcel Manson, who serves as music director at The Putney School; he is also an operatic soloist, choral and orchestral conductor, master teacher, and festival artistic director regionally and around the world.
This year's sponsors include Richmond Auto Repair, Centre Church, Brattleboro Reformer, Brattleboro Savings & Loan, C&S Wholesale Grocers, and DF Walter Jewelry Studio, in addition to Friends of Music's 50th season media sponsors, Vermont Public Radio and the Vermont Arts Council.
The Friends of Music Holiday Boutique is stocked with several series of art cards by local artist, a selection of CDs, and a variety of tote bags. Sales of these items support Friends of Music concert programs, many of which are offered on a donation basis to make them accessible to music lovers of modest means.