story and photos by Debbie Miller, special to The City Wire
EUREKA SPRINGS — The musical theme was Christmas, but the 19th annual holiday concert by The Ozarks Chorale also was focused on community.
For the first time in its history the Chorale initiated a special holiday project that invited the community to learn and sing with a combined Chorale and high school choir “The Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah.” The special performance was the closing number for the Saturday (Dec. 14) concert at The Auditorium in Eureka Springs.
To that end, the Chorale launched in October a posting on Youtube allowing people to learn the music and then to stand and participate in singing the piece, said Beth Withey, artistic director and conductor for the Chorale.
The Saturday performance featured not only the 56-member Ozarks Chorale, but also the choir (named “The Voice”) of Berryville High School, the Jubilee Ringers hand bell group and musicians from the community providing musical accompaniment. Ellen Foncannon Stephenson serves as accompanist and composer for the Chorale.
Paul Gandy, president of The Ozarks Chorale’s board of directors, said the group had been practicing for Christmas concert, titled Holidays in the Hills, since the first Tuesday of September. Practice for the group’s May 10 concert will begin the second Tuesday of January. More information about the organization is available at this website.
Mark Mallett, who sings bass and has been in the Chorale for 11 years, said the Chorale members enjoy working with Withey, the conductor. “She packs a lot of energy … and joy” into their rehearsals, he said. He estimated the average age of members at about 52 years.
Madison Brown and Abigail Boaz were among the Berryville High School students who performed with the Chorale. They said they enjoyed the opportunity.
The Berryville choir members expressed their appreciation to Jim Swiggart and his wife for their support of the music program at BHS.
Brown and Boaz said their favorite part of the performance was a rendition of “Santa Baby” sung to Swiggart, who donned a fake beard to portray Santa Claus.
“It (“Santa Baby”) gave us a chance to be spontaneous and have fun,” Brown said.