With the tree lit up at East Ferry and the decorations adorning the houses at Beavertail Lighthouse in Conanicut Point, it’s starting to look a lot like Christmas.
Next week it will start to look like that too.
The community choir and community band performances will be the first Christmas concert either troupe has had since 2019 due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“One of the greatest things,” backing vocalist Judith Anderson said, “is getting together, in person, and being able to sing.”
As usual, the band’s instrumentalists will be sponsoring a free concert followed by refreshments. Their seasonal repertoire, under the direction of bandleader Don Smith, will include music from “The Polar Express”, “A Most Wonderful Christmas” arranged by Robert Sheldon and “Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson.
“March of the Toys” and “The Polar Express” will play non-stop between songs (“It’s a very old Christmas thing with a very new one,” Smith said) and “Do You Want to Build a Snowman? ” from the 2013 Disney film “Frozen” will be heard. Jennifer Lee, director and screenwriter of the film, is the daughter of Jamestown resident Sav Rebecchi.
Smith is looking forward to the return of the Christmas concert because the band “means so much to the people who play there. It’s a bigger part of their life as they get older. The joy it brings them brings joy to me.
There will be additional new music this year, “Jingle Bell Swing”, which is performed in the style of legendary jazz percussionist Gene Krupa, and features local band drummer Sal Sanfilippo.
Another new recruit is the group’s president, flautist Laura Ferrick, who was elected in June. She has a bachelor’s degree in music education from Rhode Island College and has been a member for approximately 24 months.
“There’s this magic of Christmas music that changes the atmosphere of rehearsal,” Ferrick said. “It’s a nice feeling.”
While the group did not participate in the 2020 Christmas season, the choir sponsored virtual performances via weekly videos uploaded to its YouTube channel. Although the choir performed an abbreviated concert in September at East Ferry, director BJ Whitehouse said the full membership was ready for a return to relative normalcy after nearly two years of uncertainty.
“At some of our rehearsals, people were crying just because we had to,” he said. “We have people who are so excited to be able to meet and greet each other.”
Anderson, a North Kingstown resident who has sung with the choir for more than three decades, said it was surreal to be separated from her fellow singers after all these years.
“It’s one of my favorite things to do, so it was so weird not to sing,” she said.
Whitehouse, although there were still uncertainties with the pandemic, started thinking about the Christmas concert in June. Rehearsals began in September, and the schedule was tentative until Whitehouse learned that Broadway shows were reopening in New York.
“Guys, I don’t know if we’re going to be able to do this, but let’s try,” he told his choir.
Whitehouse is closely monitoring the guidelines set out by public health officials, and while he is “a bit concerned” about the rising positivity rate, he is instituting protocols to keep his singers and audiences safe.
Proof of vaccination is required for admission, which excludes children under 5, and masks must be worn throughout the concert by audience members. While the entire choir is fully vaccinated, Whitehouse suggested the 32 members each take a COVID-19 test before the concert to allay any concerns. Singers can decide for themselves if they want to be masked. Only 100 tickets will be sold to ensure social distancing, half the typical capacity.
“We’re following all the protocols to make sure it’s safe,” Whitehouse said.
During weekly rehearsals, the entire choir practiced for 20 minutes, followed by a 10-minute break for the air filtration system to work. The choir would return for another 20 minutes and the process would repeat. For the last 45 minutes, rehearsals were devoted to small ensembles, duos and soloists.
The concert program is made up entirely of selections from the Oxford Book of Carols, including “Deck the Halls” and “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen.” Whitehouse said the decision to base the show on traditional Christmas carols was to create some semblance of normalcy at this point in the pandemic. This carries over to the title of the show, which is simply “Merry Christmas”.
“Most of the arrangements are going to be very familiar,” he said.
The first half of the show will consist of solos, duos and quartets. Following these performances, accompanist Dawn Chung will play a solo piano piece before the full choir takes the stage to culminate the concert with nine songs. Whitehouse said Chung’s piano piece was a surprise and he didn’t know what she had up to. However, he trusts her “implicitly”.
“We are so lucky to have her as our companion,” he said. “I have no doubt whatsoever that what she plays will be nothing short of magnificent.”
In the full chorus section of the show, the group will perform well-known songs like “The Coventry Carol” and “Ding Dong Merrily on High.”
“For the most part, everyone who hears this, except for one or two tracks, is going to be like, ‘Oh yeah, I remember that. They’re all pretty familiar,” Whitehouse said.
If you want to go there
Tickets for the Jamestown Community Chorus Christmas Concert at 4 p.m. Dec. 11 are available on its website, directly from choir members, or by calling BJ Whitehouse at 401-423-1574. Admission is $15.
The Jamestown Community Band will perform their free Christmas concert at 7 p.m. on December 14.
Both concerts are held at the Recreation Center, 41 Conanicus Ave.