Nothing quite represents the joy of the Christmas season than singing and the Williamsburg Women’s Chorus did its job in helping spread cheer in its “Song in the Air” winter program Saturday in the Williamsburg Presbyterian Church.
Under the capable baton of Rebecca Davy and ably supported by talented pianist Christine Niehaus, the Women’s Chorus sought to ward off the nasty weather that started Friday and continued into Saturday evening with a program of warming songs geared to the holidays.
The fare opened with “Gaudete! Gaudete!” an appropriately joyful rendering of a late medieval Latin-based carol, which was quickly followed with the song after which the program seemed to be named, “There’s a Song in the Air.” Written by Virginia-born Teresa Yoder, who taught music for a while at Walsingham Academy and is currently music director at Immaculate Conception Church in Hampton, the new anthem was gentle, sweet and flowing. Its singing was lovely, sensitive and as delicate as the snow falling outside.
In addition to James McCray’s “Gloria in Excelsis Deo,” which relied on the solo talents of several sopranos and guest flutist Debra Kidney, and Canadian composer Stephen Chatman’s “Stars, Blue, Ice,” which was a creative setting of three poems written by children, the main work of the evening was Derek Holman’s “Sir Christemas.”
Another Canadian composer, Holman is noted for his creative and carefully crafted choral works. “Sir Christemas Suite” is a series of eight brief selections based on medieval English Christmas-themed texts. “Christemas” is essentially bright and cheery, with witty themes and threads running through it.
Despite its largely light-hearted nature, the work is quite difficult and the Women’s Chorus is commended for taking on this challenge, their handling of the work‘s highly rhythmic and tricky passages handily handled. From the inviting and gentle “Proface, Welcome” that opened the piece, through the quirky beats of “Sir Christemas,” to the peaceful quality of “The Wassail” and the closing cheerfulness of the “Now Have a Good Day,” the effort here was quite fine. It was enhanced by excellent solo work from soprano Tara Davy in “Wassail” and “Ivy, Chief of Trees” and throughout this work and the entire program, by Dan Knipple’s service as a one man percussion section, manning many different instruments.
The Choraliers, a select group that serves as a community musical ambassador, took the spotlight in a quiet and thoughtful “Hallelu,” a fun-filled, highly rhythmic “Funky Dreidl (sic)” that seemed to take on the whirl of a spinning dreidel before it stops, and a contemporary spin on “Wassalin’” with its jazzed-up doo wah spirit.
As something of a transitional break between selections, Davy took to the church’s marvelous organ and regaled us with virtuoso-type playing of John Leavitt’s “A Joyful Christmas,” with its weaving of carols into the fabric of the fancy fingering work.
As usual in these programs, the Williamsburg Youth Chorale gets a chance to shine and shine they did in “Peace on Earth and Lots of Little Crickets” and “Up above My Head,” conducted by Genrose Lashinger and Ann Porter, with piano work by Elaine Powell.
Following an audience sing-along, the Chorale and Youth combined to offer a bright and light “Bells” and a cute arrangement of “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” sung not to lyrics but to “fa la la” providing a delightful close to a happy holiday program.
Shulson, a Williamsburg resident, has been covering the arts for over 40 years. He makes a guest appearance in Margaret Truman's "Murder at the Opera."