The holiday season is a great time for the arts, and as usual, Jamestown will have many rich opportunities for people to celebrate the joy of the season and to experience the deeper emotions which also frequently are evoked.
Whether you put your decorations up shortly before the holiday and keep them up throughout the traditional 12 days of Christmas, as I was raised to do, or you put them up before Halloween and take them down Christmas afternoon, which seems to be prevalent in this part of the country, it's a time when life can seem a little bit lighter and brighter, when sharing and caring seem slightly more common, and when we all can stockpile a bit of comfort and joy to last us through the many days of icy winds and slippery pavements ahead.
This week, we'd like to share the column between the relatively newly formed women's a capella singing group, Serendipity, and the next show on the 2012-13 season of performances for one of our community's oldest continuously operated arts organizations, the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown, which will be doing a radio play version of the popular Hollywood classic "It's a Wonderful Life." Both offer much for the season of riches ahead.
The women of Serendipity: (from left) Susan Huther, director; Carolyn Taft Whitehead; Lissa VanDewark; Laura Flower Hotchkiss; Leslie Hallock; Cyndi Lorenc; Melanie Gritters; and Gail Grundstrom.
Before anyone accuses us of showing favoritism, the ladies sent us some very nice photos, while the Little Theatre group hadn't held a photo call yet in time for our deadline, so we can only show you their efforts on the verbal level. But we can share the good news of these two good groups. I hope you will support them both if you can.
According to my trusty dictionary, the word "Serendipity" means a happy surprise, or something of a positive nature that happens without preparation or a deliberate course of action.
In Western New York, Serendipity is a most serendipitous ensemble of eight lovely ladies, who sing together because they love to do it and because they enjoy being with one another. All of them have trained voices and all have had at least some connection with the Chautauqua Chamber Singers, although their group is not part of the Community Music Project, which is the parent agency to a number of music-related performing and/or educational organizations in Chautauqua County.
The group formed in the summer of 2009, and until now, they have just sung for themselves and when someone has asked them to sing as a program to a regular meeting or at a wedding or some such occasion.
On Dec. 8 at 7 p.m. in the Bellinger Chapel of First Presbyterian Church, Serendipity will give their first official concert for the general public. For those who are unfamiliar with the structure of the large church, the main entrance is at the intersection of Prendergast Avenue and Fifth Street. If you continue along Prendergast to the corner of Sixth Street, you will see an entrance to the building which will lead you into a hallway which leads between the church's large fellowship hall on your right and the beautiful, small Bellinger Chapel on your left.
There is no admission charge to attend the performance. A freewill offering will be taken, both to assist with the costs of doing the concert and as a benefit for the Annie Immordino Scholarship Fund, with the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation. That fund makes it possible for children to study and to participate in the Children's Music Studio organization, which is part of the Community Music Project.
What better purpose for a music concert than to make it possible for young musicians to learn and advance in their art?
I was able to corral three of the eight members of the organization only a few minutes before one of their rehearsals, but I learned quite a bit about the organization in that short time.
The three women dashed in from other responsibilities, all a bit breathless and agitated from dealing with weather, traffic and, in some cases, with the high energy level of a day filled with students on the last day of school before Thanksgiving.
Starting music groups has become something of a habit for Leslie Hallock, who was one of the founding members of the Chautauqua Chamber Singers. She teaches kindergarten in the Jamestown Public Schools and somehow finds time to garden, cook and promote the use of Mary Kay Cosmetics, in addition to singing first alto in her various singing organizations.
"In 2009, I was listening to a CD made by a women's ensemble at my daughter's college," she said. Ms. Hallock is the mother of four grown children.
"I loved the sound of the women's voices, and I thought it would be wonderful to have a casual group like the one I was hearing, which could rehearse and perform whenever it could be fitted in, around all the other many duties my friends and I seem to face. So, I brought it up among some of my friends, and they thought it sounded great."
Susan Huther was selected to direct the ensemble, although each member has assignments of the tasks involved in having the group. Ms. Huther is a native of the Rochester area, and she has been vocal music director at both Southwestern Central High School and Middle School for 16 years.
In addition to her school work, plus teaching mallet percussion to the Jamestown High School Marching Band, and singing with Serendipity and the Chamber Singers, she gardens, goes kayaking, and enjoys traveling and spending time with her family. In the ensemble, she sings first alto.
"It's fun to direct this group, although I think many people would be surprised at how much time it involves, beyond rehearsals and performances. Just listening to the hundreds of pieces of music and researching whether the works I think are best are available in an arrangement which we can sing takes many hours," she said. She added that Lissa VanDewark and Laura Flower Hotchkiss also help in selecting works to sing.
The women report that some of their music is written for soprano and alto, some in four parts, for soprano I and II, and alto I and II, and some for eight different parts, meaning each singer must sing independently of all the others.
Ms. Hotchkiss reports that she heads the program and teaches music in grades K-6 at Bethel Baptist Christian Academy, and that she sometimes comes across a piece of music which would work well for Serendipity while searching for music for her students. In addition to the women's group, she sings with the Chamber Singers and with the Erie Renaissance Singers. She also enjoys practicing piano, doing yoga, playing tennis and reading.
Serendipity typically rehearses twice per week, once on a week night and once on a weekend, for two hours each rehearsal, although that changes as opportunities to perform arise and as personal responsibilities interfere.
I wondered if they needed to sing a lot of music which was originally intended for mixed ensembles, but which has been arranged for women's voices, but they all assured me that especially in recent years, a great deal has been written specifically for women's voices.
Because they are all committed so extensively, I wondered if it was difficult to assemble a quorum. They said they had made the rule that they can perform if one singer is not available, but they turn down any requests for performances if fewer than seven members are available.
The members of Serendipity with whom I didn't get to speak are these: Cyndi Lorenc is the other first soprano. Melanie Gritters and Gail Grundstrom are the second sopranos, and Lissa VanDewark and Carolyn Taft Whitehead are the second altos.
The women say they are relatively newly organized, and that much of their efforts so far have involved simply making the public aware that they are performing and are available for performances. Their immediate goals for the future are to establish a website and to make a CD as a source of income and to make the public more aware that they exist.
They are not interested in expanding into a full chorus, admitting that one of the joys of the organization, in addition to the sheer joy of singing, is that their music is always balanced, among parts, and they are relatively like-minded and can make decisions without needing to accommodate a wide variety of possible disagreements.
"We're venturing into fairly new territory with this full concert," Ms. Huther said. "Generally we do 20-minute performances as the program for a meeting or event, and one of the things we've learned from doing it is how difficult it is to schedule anything without conflicting with concerts and performances by other groups."
"We sincerely tried to find a date and time for this performance which wouldn't draw audiences away from other organizations, and we thought we had found them, but no sooner had we announced our plans when we learned about other events which conflicted," said Ms. Hotchkiss.
Here is a chance to hear lovely ladies perform beautiful music in a splendid location with excellent acoustics, and to do it for free - although with a chance offered to support their work and their choice of scholarship funds if you can do that. It even comes with free food, as there is a reception following the concert in the fellowship hall of First Presbyterian Church.
Now that is an excellent opportunity.
IT'S A WONDERFUL LIFE
When you think of classic films without which the holiday season would not be complete, a great many people put the 1946 film "It's a Wonderful Life" near the top of their list, if not at the very top.
The film is a heartwarming story of a man in a small town who has lost all of his life's dreams, one by one, and who finally finds himself considering suicide, wishing that he had never been born until a guardian angel shows him a glimpse of what the world would be like if he truly had not been born, and he realizes that he has done a world of good in his life and is revered and respected by nearly everyone, although it had all evolved so gradually he had never realized it.
This year, the Lucille Ball Little Theatre of Jamestown will present six performances of a radio version of the film's plot. In the 1940s, there were two radio productions of the story, in both of which actors Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed, who played the leads in the film, repeated their characters.
We talked recently with Robert John Terreberry, who is directing the production at LBLTJ, and he filled us in on how it will be presented.
"Our set is minimal, but it is made to look like a radio studio on Christmas Eve in the year 1946," he told me. "Five actors will play all the roles. The two who play George Bailey and his wife Mary play only those roles, but others play six and even eight different parts each. This was common in radio theater, and the script seems to delight in throwing the actors challenges, such as a scene in which an actor is doing different voices for two characters who are drawn into a conversation, during which a third character, still played by the same actor, joins into things. Sometimes an actor goes on for pages, doing first one voice, then a different one, then a third one."
Terreberry said that the designer of the entire production, including set, costumes, props, lights, etc. is Patti Culliton. "She is in charge of all things 1940s, and I wanted everything on the stage to scream that period of history. She's already worked a lot of magic, and I think the audience is going to feel themselves to be in a period before most of them were even born," he said.
Many people in today's audience are familiar with radio drama, if they are at all, through the programs of "A Prairie Home Companion." "Anyone who listens to those shows, and especially those who went out to Chautauqua when Garrison Keillor did his radio show from the Amphitheater, knows that one of the most important people in the show is the sound technician - the guy who puts shoes on his hands and makes walking noises to indicate that someone is moving along, or who makes sounds like a rainstorm, or a passing car, or whatever," the director said.
The sound effects technician for the LBLTJ production will be Bemus Point native Steven Cobb. "Every rehearsal, the cast and crew can't wait to see what new things Steve has found for making background sounds," Terreberry said. "He really has done a bang-up job, and he's going to add to everyone's enjoyment."