2007-12-06 / Front Page

Island holiday concert promises music extravaganza

By Michaela Kennedy

The Jamestown Community Chorus has polished its pitch and shines in anticipation of the nineteenth holiday concert series slated for this weekend.

Traditional Christmas carols with standard arrangements will be accented with contemporary compositions. "You're going to hear sounds that will knock your socks off," choral director B.J. Whitehouse promises. Whitehouse says he gave over to his eclecticism this year and decided to introduce new music never done by the chorus. "And I mean new music that has been composed since the 1980s," he clarifies.

One arrangement that will be introduced at the concert is "Immortal Bach" by Knut Nystedt. The piece was composed as a tribute to Johann Sebastian Bach. "Nystedt took a Bach chorale and exploded it into component parts. You'll find the cadences mind-boggling," Whitehouse explains. "It's like nothing you've ever heard." He describes the music as a lot like looking at the exploded frog body diagram in a biology textbook. "The engineers and scientists in the group love it," he adds.

Another choral composition Whitehouse chose is called "Rune of Hospitality" by Alf Houkom, an intimate Gaelic text about the blessing of Christ, who walks the Earth in a stranger's guise. "It is unbelievably difficult," the conductor divulges.

Despite the intricate music that Whitehouse picks for the chorus, he beams with confidence at the talent present in the group. "We provide more than ample time for everyone to learn their parts," he says. "I have high standards and try to meet them."

Those who become members of the chorus, as well as the audience that comes to listen, are there because they love to listen to singing, the director notes. "You're watching your friends and family members make sounds you never knew they could make."

The 60-member chorus is larger than most holiday choirs, which typically run between 50 and 55 members. The well-seaing soned director does not find the size unwieldy, however, and rises to the challenge of balancing the voices. Such a balancing act can be challenging at times, especially when one choral section is smaller than the rest. Whitehouse explains that reigning in the larger sections to keep the volumes balanced is the job of a good conductor. "But we always need tenors," he adds.

The chorus spent Monday night's rehearsal fine-tuning their music before the big event this weekend. The moment 7 o'clock arrived, Whitehouse tapped his baton on the edge of the music stand, commanding all present to stand and open their voices. He charged into warm-up drills. He uses his own rich vocalization to coax proper tongue and mouth form to produce beautiful tones. "I have never started a rehearsal late," Whitehouse warned before the practice session earlier in the week.

Chorus members over the years have commented on Whitehouse's strict approach and penchant for complex music compositions. He is the first to admit that the pieces he chooses test the limits of the choral members, but Whitehouse will also fight anyone who calls him a "taskmaster." The comments about his style are said with respect, and the singers all agree they would not be there if the effort were not fun. "We say community comes before chorus, and we mean it. We laugh a lot," Whitehouse says.

Performances are scheduled for Saturday, Dec. 8, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Dec. 9, at 3 p.m. Both performances will be held at the Central Baptist Church at 99 Narragansett Ave.

Tickets cost $10 for general admission, $7 for seniors and children, and are available at the door. Advance tickets can also be purchased from chorus members and also at The Secret Garden, Jamestown Hardware, and Baker's Pharmacy. For more information, call 423- 1574, or visit www. jamestownri.com/chorus.

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