The Community Chorus of Port Townsend and East Jefferson County will perform “The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass,” at 7 p.m. on both Friday, Dec. 6, at the First Presbyterian Church at …
The Community Chorus of Port Townsend and East Jefferson County will perform “The World Beloved: A Bluegrass Mass,” at 7 p.m. on both Friday, Dec. 6, at the First Presbyterian Church at 1111 Franklin St. in Port Townsend, and Sunday, Dec. 8, at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer at 45 Redeemer Way in Chimacum.
Jonathan Stafford and Sarah Moran will share the podium for the holiday concerts, for which composer Carol Barnett and librettist Marisha Chamberlain have combined the bluegrass style with a reinvention of the Catholic Latin Mass.
“The moment I first saw the score to Barnett’s new choral masterpiece, I knew I wanted to try it,” Moran said. “Chamberlain has altered the message of the original material, making it one of affirmation and love. She reimagines the story as one of blessings, an affirmation of life.”
Moran explained that the composer orchestrated the piece for a traditional five-piece bluegrass band, but called on the instrumentalists to perform as if they were classical musicians, reading from a score and following a conductor.
“This is something out of the comfort zone of many bluegrass musicians, who traditionally play by ear and incorporate a great deal of improvisation,” Moran said. “We are fortunate to have found consummate violin and mandolin players to accompany the piano.”
Joining the singers in concert are Marina Rosenquist on violin and Fayla Schwartz on mandolin, as well as Liz Hopkins, the chorus’s brand-new piano accompanist.
“Liz provides wonderful support to the chorus and is an excellent pianist,” Chorus President Linda Atkins said.
Stafford said the “Bluegrass Mass” is a challenge for any musician.
“I don’t know many singers who could learn that score without some serious study,” Stafford said. “The rhythms have to be dissected and analyzed to be truly understood. Luckily, it’s a blast to sing!”
Chorus Board Treasurer Pat Hartman noted the time signature also changes frequently.
“Many of the singers had little prior or recent musical experience,” Hartman said.
“This is one aspect of the chorus with which I am continuously amazed,” Moran said. “They approach challenges with infectious enthusiasm, driven by an intense love of singing.”
The two concerts aren’t just about bluegrass, since a full range of seasonal music is also part of the chorus program, and Stafford said he appreciates the variety.
“I like that the show is all over the map, but still feels like it works,” Stafford said. “I am learning that the Community Chorus is capable of rising to any challenge they face.”
Stafford selected time-honored personal favorites, and choir members added their own song suggestions, introducing him to new compositions to complete the wintry repertoire.
One of Stafford’s favorite American contemporary composers is Shawn Kirchner, whose “Brightest and Best” is in the lineup, and also utilizes Rosenquist on violin.
Another number Stafford is pleased to include in the program is a portion of Daniel Pinkham’s “Christmas Cantata.”
Homemade cookies, in hand-decorated boxes, will be sold at both concerts for $15 per box.
Concert tickets are also $15, and are available at brownpapertickets.com, Crossroads Music in Port Townsend, or at the door. For more information, call 360-385-1402.