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Chautauqua chorus performs 'Out Under the Sky'

The Chautauqua Community Chorus, at St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Gladstone, will present “Out Under the Sky,” at 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, and at 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8. The performances feature early-American carols of the pilgrims, settlers, Native peoples and more.

by: PHOTO BY DICK TRTEK - Jamie Webster conducts the Chautauqua Community Chorus as they rehearse for their upcoming concerts on Dec. 7 and 8.Also on the bill are members of the St. Stephen bell choir and worship team.

The Chautauqua Community Chorus has been performing for 13 years, and the 30-member choir will be conducted by Jamie Lynn Webster, who has been the CCC conductor since 2010.

She chooses the concert programs by thinking about special pieces that she wants the chorus and the audience “to experience, in combination with pieces readily available in our choir library, and that give the program adequate breadth.”

She added that there is always too much to choose from and so only the very best ends up in the final program. She also likes to focus on a different historical era of music with “a different positive and/or provocative message to offer.”

‘Out Under the Sky’

As she was looking around for numbers for this upcoming concert she fell in love with a piece called “Francis Whitmore’s Wife,” that describes a pioneer woman’s life in winter. “The text, by songwriter Carole Moody Crompton, adapts entries from Elizabeth Whitmore’s diary. She was an early settler in Vermont, who found courage and strength through the hardship and loneliness of a long winter with only her daughter by her side,” Webster said.

The song also represents the shape-note tradition; shape-notes, she added, help singers find their pitch.

As she looked at other pieces that might work well with this one, she found a number of “lovely, fascinating and similarly moving early American carols and choral pieces — some also from the shape-note traditions, often revolving around the text themes of the lonely winter’s journey out under the stars, hearkening back to the first Christmas long ago and far away, while also seeking the heart’s truest desire for love and belonging in the here and now,” Webster said.

“Our sing-along portion of the program will include some of the best-loved among these, such as ‘I Wonder as I Wander,’ from which our concert title, ‘Out Under the Sky,’ is taken.”

Webster said she also is including pieces by William Billings, known as the “father of American choral music,” and William Walker, who wrote in the shape-note tradition.

“Additionally, I’m pleased to present one of my own compositions, an arrangement of the well-known ‘Huron Carol,’ in which a history of the carol plays out in the different verses,” she said.

The concert also will feature choral pieces associated with varied cultural groups within early America — songs and carols from African-American, Anglo, French-Canadian, German, Moravian and Native American traditions.

Music for the soul

Both “Out Under the Sky” concerts are free and open to all ages, with activities for children that will include a visit from St. Nicholas. A donation benefits local, worthy charities providing shelter for local homeless families who would otherwise be sleeping “out under the sky,” Webster said.

People should attend the concerts because “there is something about these pieces that is like musical comfort food for the soul. The melodies are lovely and soulful, the rhythms are strong, sometimes dancelike, the harmonies are true and the texts are powerful and uplifting.”

Kristi Beyer has been a member of the chorus for three years. What she likes best about it is that the pieces are “challenging, and you get to sing with a full choir. When you hear all the harmonies, all the high and low voices, it is just awesome.”

It is a “joyous time of the year” for a concert, she said, noting that this year she gets to sing a solo in “Francis Whitmore’s Wife.”

She added, “The first time I came to a concert, it was as an audience member. I said this is a hidden secret; this is Broadway-quality music in Gladstone.”

Also taking part in the concerts will be the St. Stephen Bell Choir, led by Emily Boleyn. This group has been playing for 26 years, since 1977.

“They began with a two-octave set of bells from a memorial gift, and now have four-and-a-half octaves, played by 10 ringers. The bells range from very tiny to very large, and many techniques of bell playing are included on the program — including playing with mallets, and different kind of ringing arm swings,” Webster said.

The St. Stephen Bell Choir will give an additional program at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 12, at the Gladstone City Library.

Choral conducting

Webster has been leading vocal groups for nearly 20 years, though choral conducting, specifically, has played a larger role in her musical activities since 2010. She also is the assistant conductor for ViVoce Revels.

Webster earned her first music degrees in music education and vocal performance at Chico State, where she studied choral conducting with William Ramsey.

After spending time in Chicago, performing with Lira — a Polish arts ensemble — and other multicultural music and dance groups, Webster studied musicology, focusing on music for drama, and ethnomusicology, focusing on Balkan and Eastern European singing, at the University of Oregon.

She earned her doctorate degree in 2009, following the completion of her dissertation on “Harry Potter” film music.

All these experiences and studies inform her work at St. Stephen, she said, adding, “We welcome you to share this wonderful holiday program with us. Singers and audience members have commented how each concert offers a fascinating mix of music not likely to be heard elsewhere in the greater Portland area.”

Sing your heart out

What: The Chautauqua Community Chorus presents “Out Under the Sky,” conducted by Jamie Lynn Webster, with Karen Corbett, rehearsal accompanist

When: 7 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 7, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 8

Where: St. Stephen Lutheran Church, 290 W. Gloucester, Gladstone

Cost: Free, but a donation benefits local organizations serving the homeless.

Contact: For more information, call 503-656-8194.

More: The Chautauqua Community Chorus is a musical sanctuary — a safe place to sing— with no audition, fees, or religious affiliation required, and is open to any adult or teen.



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