This week, staff writer Laura Rysz talks with Alan Baker about the Choral Society of Northeast Pennsylvania and the Lyric Consort’s virtual “Service Lessons and Carols” concert.
Professional background: Artistic director for the Choral Society of Northeast Pennsylvania and the Lyric Consort since the late 1990s; professor of music at Bloomsburg University; completed graduate studies at Temple University and earned a doctorate from Stanford University.
A: Carl Shinko of Longfooter Productions has filmed all of the video and will be editing it for the project. Carl is also handling all of the technology to create our new virtual recordings and has also recorded most of the archival audio recordings we are using, as he has been working with me, the Choral Society and the Lyric Consort for a long time. Carl is a singer and choral conductor himself, so he brings to the project a real ear and understanding of the music. The very things that makes this project so timely and valuable also really worked against our securing of the video footage, as you can’t just walk into churches these days. People are not always in the offices to answer phones, etc. So securing all the video would have been easier if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, but then again, there would have been a less pressing need for us to do what we are doing
Q: Tell us about the Choral Society of NEPA and the Lyric Consort.
A: The Choral Society of Northeast Pennsylvania was formed in 1999 through the merger of the former Singers Guild of Scranton and Wilkes-Barre’s Wyoming Valley Oratorio Society. Both of those groups had been in existence for about 50 years and sometimes even shared the same conductor. They also competed for the same singers and audience, so joining allowed the sharing of those resources. The Choral Society of NEPA thus serves as “the region’s voice for choral music and education,” sponsoring a series of graded choirs for children ages 5 to 18 as well as large and small ensembles for adults. The Choral Society ensembles regularly collaborate with the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic; are featured in broadcasts on the region’s public radio affiliate, WVIA-FM; and perform regularly in the region’s finest and most historic venues. Society ensembles and singers have toured internationally; performed by invitation at important state, regional and national events and in honor choirs; and participated in a number of recordings. Additional information on the Choral Society and its offerings is available by visiting the organization’s website at choralsociety.net.
Formed in 1993 to pursue historically informed performance of the a cappella repertories of the medieval and Renaissance periods, the Lyric Consort’s repertoire has gradually broadened to encompass art music of the 17th, 19th and 20th centuries as well as multicultural and folk song. The eight-voice a cappella ensemble has performed by invitation throughout Pennsylvania, New York and Maryland, including state and regional conventions of the American Choral Directors Association, American Guild of Organists, Association of Anglican Musicians and collaborations with the NEPA Philharmonic, Presbybop Jazz Quartet, Four Nations Ensemble and New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art
Q: How someone can view the virtual performance?
A: Our “Service of Lessons and Carols” is streaming 24/7 through Saturday, Jan. 2, so it will be available any time anyone with internet access wants to stream it on their computer, smartphone or smart TV over two weeks. There is no charge. People can go at that time to the Choral Society website (choralsociety.net) or follow the Choral Society on its Facebook page, facebook.com/CSNEPA.
Q: What songs will the groups perform?
A: The project will include traditional/familiar music of Felix Mendelssohn, Charles Villiers Stanford, Benjamin Britten, Peter Cornelius and John Rutter as well as newer works of Joel Martinson, Peter Anglea and Daniel Gawthrop. Well-known carols to be referenced include “Silent Night,” “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” “Still, Still, Still” and “Joy to the World.” Dr. Timothy Smith of Covenant Presbyterian Church, Scranton, will also be featured in organ works.
Q: Why is community support important to your cause?
A: Well, a lot of work and time has gone into this from a lot of people. Again, not just Carl and I, and not just our singers, but all those who gave their time to record the readings or get us into their churches and schools during all of the COVID precautions. I’m sure all of us will watch it, probably even a few times, but again, the inspiration was to create something not just for the typical and limited audience that might attend a classical choral concert, but for the whole larger population of NEPA residents that, even if they don’t attend church regularly, find their way there during the Christmas season to enjoy choral music amid beautiful artworks while reflecting on the larger themes of Christmas.
Laura Rysz is the features copy editor and calendar editor at The Times-Tribune and runs the Talk of the Times column, which focuses on local fundraisers and other events. She also writes Chef’s Table that profiles restaurants around the region. Additionally, Laura curates events online on AccessNEPA.com. Laura is involved in the special Mother’s Day edition and curates occasional features Marry Memories and Times Travelers. She is a graduate of Haddonfield Memorial High School, New Jersey, and earned an English professional writing degree with a minor in mass communications from King’s College, Wilkes-Barre. She also earned a certificate in Social Media Marketing from Rutgers Business School. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; 570-348-9100 x5228.