By JOANNE M. COMAR
CHARLESTON — In their upcoming Piccolo Spoleto concert, Christ Our King choir members will use built-in and portable prompting devices: their memories. All their musical scores, with full notations on style and dynamics, will be arranged in the portfolios of their minds.
The concert, part of Piccolo Spoleto’s Festival of Churches series, will take place on Saturday, June 12, at 1 p.m. at the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist. A handbell ensemble from Christ Our King, The King’s Ringers, directed by Donna Teague, will join the choir in presenting the program.
Principal conductor William R. Becknell, director of music ministries at Christ Our King, said the performance will be the choir’s first full concert from memory. The music will be repeated when choir and handbell ensemble members travel on a musical tour of Ireland, from June 14 to 23.
Becknell and Lisa Hellstrom, assistant conductor, will lead the 40 singers through a varied program including settings of familiar hymns and folk melodies; African-American spirituals and Southern Gospel music; a contemporary Christian piece; and original compositions. Vocal soloists will include Hellstrom, Randi Lucich, Willette McKamey, and John Roberts; accompanists will include Debbie Bagwell and Paul Irwin. Vin Duffy will be the flutist. Sandra Reyna will be an accompanist in Ireland.
While preparing for the concert has been challenging, time-consuming and brain-taxing for the choir, the audience should find the music spiritually restorative and easy on the ears. The selection process for the music was influenced by post-liturgy reactions and comments from Christ Our King parishioners over the years. Many of the concert pieces have special places in the hearts of COK parishioners.
“Our choir enjoys performing large-scale works by major composers, but we are aware that our parish enjoys best the smaller pieces which use familiar styles and recognizable tunes,” Becknell said. “I like to quote a statement made by the spouse of a choir member, after a complicated polyphonic work: ‘I think the singers enjoyed that piece more than the congregation.’ With the interests of our listeners in mind, we decided on a Piccolo Spoleto program of shorter, more familiar works. Since many of the pieces are composed or arranged by Americans and many are well-loved by Americans, we are calling our program ‘An American Sampler.’ Most of the works are beloved tunes given exciting and appealing settings by lesser known arrangers. We will also sing our parish’s favorite piece, Tom Kendzia’s ‘Pieta,’ which we sing every year on Good Friday.”
Several songs in the program, a Mosie Lister composition and two David Clark Isele works, have noteworthy background stories. When Hellstrom attended a music conference a few years ago, she came across a collection of Mosie Lister’s Southern Gospel music written for women’s voices.
“Our women’s ensemble has done music with intricate close harmonies in the past,” she said, “so I thought we would enjoy this style with ‘Andrews Sisters’-like harmonies.” She ordered one of his works, and shortly thereafter the women sang at Mass their first Mosie Lister piece. Since then they have sung three other Lister songs and have expressed interest in learning more about the composer.
During the concert’s planning stages, Becknell made contact with some of the arrangers and composers whose works the choir will sing. Mosie Lister, 78 years old, was delighted to learn of the choir’s attraction to his music and is very pleased that his “While Ages Roll” will be a part of the concert.
There has been a bond between the COK choir and liturgical composer Isele over the past two decades. From time to time Isele has brought the University of Tampa Collegiate Chorale to perform at Christ Our King Church during Spring Break. The COK choir and many other choirs in the Greater Charleston area sing Isele’s “Lamb of God.” When Christ Our King installed its new Holtkamp organ in 1997, Isele was commissioned to compose a work for the organ’s dedication ceremony. The result was “Exultations, Aria & Alleluias.” The “Alleluias” from this major work will open the concert and is guaranteed to capture the attention of the audience. Isele’s other piece, “Let us Break Bread,” for male voices, is a Christ Our King favorite.
Also included among the 13 songs on the program are a medieval-sounding setting of a traditional Latin chant, “Veni Creator Spiritus,” by Charles Renick of Columbia, and John Bertalot’s setting of “Amazing Grace,” which the choir performed during its singing tour of Prague, Vienna and Salzburg in 1996.
The singers and ringers who travel to Ireland will visit Dublin, Kilkenny, Clonmel, Kerry, Tralee, and Ennis. They will present a concert at a church in Dublin, sing at a liturgy in St. John’s Church, Tralee, present a concert at the Franciscan Church in Ennis, and sing at other churches and public events.
“One of the nicest things about our Ireland trip is that so many of us are of Irish ancestry,” said Peggy Youmans, a choir member who serves on the steering committee for the Ireland tour. “We are going back to the place of our origins.”