River Singers hold holiday concerts

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PUTNEY — The River Singers Community Chorus led by Mary Cay Brass will hold its special annual holiday concerts on Saturday, Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Dec. 9,  4 p.m. at Next Stage Arts, 15 Kimball Hill. The River Singers Harmony is a multi-generational chorus, in its 28th year, known for its eclectic mix of community-based music from diverse cultural music traditions.

The concert presents songs from many lands. Beginning with a English West Gallery carol celebrating the Christmas story, the choir then moves to a soulful setting by Cantor Judith Silver from Brighton, England of the Hebrew hymn of peace, Oseh Shalom — "May the one who makes peace bring peace upon us." From there the choir journeys to an Islamic Sufi chant about courage from Bosnia — a song collected by the director last summer at a Village Harmony music and peace building camp.

The choir often sings music from the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia. The New Year's carol, "Kirialesa" wishes friends and family to "enjoy everything: the old and the new. May your garden and barn be always full of corn!"

The River Singers love the songs of South Africa and this session put a huge focus on the challenging, hauntingly beautiful and joyful, Mangisondele — a Zulu setting of the hymn "Nearer My God to Thee." The song is a traditional Zulu prayer in a setting influenced by the tight harmonies that originated among the Zulu mine workers during the Apartheid years. The song will be led by bass singer, Will Danforth and alto, Marina Garland.

Each season, the choir welcomes a guest teacher who leads us in special repertoire of particular traditions. This fall, John Harrison, director of the Montpelier Vermont Gospel Choir taught the choir "Done Made My Vow to the Lord" — a classically arranged powerful spiritual; as well as the swingy "Buckle My Shoe" led by altos, Suzanne Waldren and Anika Reitmeyer-Lankone.

Songs from Eastern Europe are a specialty of this choir. The director, Mary Cay Brass lived for two years in the former Yugoslavia on a Fulbright Scholarship researching vocal traditions. Additionally, she regularly leads Village Harmony camps in Macedonia, Bosnia, and Lithuania. This concert features several songs from Bosnia, Croatia and Macedonia with director, Brass on accordion, special guest Julian Gerstin on percussion, Mary Lea on fiddle, Will Danforth on guitar and Joe Blumenthal on bass.

The admission fee will be donated to further musical diplomacy between the United States and Bosnia by helping to bring three young and talented teen singers from Bosnia to attend a New England based Village Harmony camp next summer.

With 90 voices strong echoing throughout Putney's Next Stage Arts, this is a holiday concert not to be missed. $15 (children under 11 free) For more information, visit marycaybrass.com.

Tickets available at the door only.

"The overall effect of a River Singers concert is that of something not just for the musical ear but for the whole body, a very palpable experience that is the ultimate connection between singers and listeners. There really is nothing else like it, especially considering the very difficult songs you sing!" said a River Singers' fan.




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