REVIEW: Led by CeCe Winans, Boston Pops Gospel Night rings in a joyous 25 years

Over the past 25 years, Boston Pops Gospel Night has stood the test of time as a glorious and revered annual tradition.  An illuminated brass backdrop, shining music notes, and a floating, celluloid film strip adorned the Symphony Hall stage while an enthusiastic crowd filed in for this highly-anticipated, one night only, 25th anniversary event.

Each year, Gospel Night features a special blend of acclaimed musical guests, a variety of beloved and new songs from the Boston Pops Gospel Choir, and memorable performances.  With multiple Grammy Award-winning singer CeCe Winans, a resounding, patriotic, monumental speech about freedom and peace, and rousing performances from the Boston Pops Gospel Choir, the Boston Pops Gospel Night has certainly outdone itself.  It’s an annual concert with toe tapping reverence and a spirited finale that always brings the audience to its feet.  Click here for more information on the Boston Pops, upcoming events, and more.

Warmly greeting the crowd and the orchestra was accomplished conductor, pianist, and composer Charles Floyd, who has been conducting Gospel Night for the past 23 years.  Click here for a closer look at Charles Floyd and his career.  Distinguished looking in a white tuxedo with black pants and a bow tie, Charles Floyd gave an appreciative wave before opening the 25th anniversary concert with Aaron Copland’s spirited Fanfare for the Common Man, as horns blared distinct and clear.  It was a mix of tender, powerful, and upbeat melodies that included Bach’s Little Fugue in G Minor and Chadwick’s Jubilee, which culminated into a vigorous finish and wondrous applause.

Gospel Night also recognized what would have been the recent 100th birthday of the late President John F. Kennedy by paying tribute to him and also honoring award-winning conductor, John Williams, who was the subject of this year’s Boston Pops season.  Young and naturally charismatic Reverend Thomas Crowley who is Senior Pastor of Myrtle Baptist Church, passionately delivered JFK’s famous inaugural address, “Let the Word Go Forth,” a stirring and thrilling speech which remains especially prevalent today.  The audience was captivated as the Reverend spoke of freedom, peace, ambition, and achieving the American ideal of brotherhood as musical excerpts of John Williams film score, JFK and Celebration 2000: Journey of John Williams rose underneath.

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Legendary, Grammy award-winning Gospel singer CeCe Winans Photo courtesy of the Boston Pops

 

The excitement for multiple Grammy award-winning singer CeCe Winans was tangible.   Dressed in a black and multi-colored floral gown, Cece Winans took the stage to roaring applause.  CeCe Winans is a flawless soprano whose vocal tone at times is reminiscent of Whitney Houston.  CeCe and Whitney collaborated together for the uplifting song, Count on Me in 1996.  With a joyful warmth and tenderness and as the Boston Pops Gospel Choir swayed and clapped, CeCe performed an array of faith-filled songs from her latest album, Let Them Fall in Love such as Run to Him, Dancing in the Spirit, Peace from God, Never Have to Be Alone, and the title track.  “Welcome to church,” CeCe exclaimed as she gracefully took the stage.  Many of her songs spoke about finding hope in despair, forgiveness, and in the state of the world today, how much we are in need prayer.  She concluded with a beautiful cover of Fanny Crosby’s hymn, Blessed Assurance, bringing the crowd to their feet.

Featuring a number impassioned performances from talented soloists, Charles Floyd continued to lead the Boston Pops Gospel Choir.  Soloist Suzanne Buell and Raymond Martin opened with upbeat, jubilant renditions of Celebrate followed by Carolyn Saxon and David Grandy singing King of Kings.  A particular highlight was Katani Sumner’s powerful, expressive, and bluesy rendition of When Sunday Comes.  Katani’s smooth version of the song hinted of Ella Fitzgerald in its delivery.

Each year, Gospel Night offers a grand, spirit-fueled finale.  Led by The Boston Pops Gospel Choir Artistic Director Dennis L. Slaughter, it is a party that could go all night long, if only they could.  One of the biggest highlights of the evening came from soloist Renese King, who sang a tambourine-infused, rollicking rendition of the classic Gospel hymn, Oh Happy Day.  Oh, Happy 25th Anniversary indeed.

Company Theatre proudly presents the uplifting musical comedy, ‘Sister Act the Musical’

With an incredible lineup of catchy, uplifting songs by Academy award-winning composer Alan Menken, Company Theatre proudly presents the hilarious musical comedy, Sister Act the Musical from Friday, March 17 through Sunday, April 9 at the Company Theatre in Norwell, Massachusetts.  Based on the 1992 smash hit film starring Whoopi Goldberg, Sister Act the Musical is a humorous, inspiring story about loyalty, friendship, and discovering what is really important.  Click here for more information and for tickets.

Set in Philadelphia, lounge singer Deloris Van Cartier finds herself in a terrible predicament and needs protection.  She finds it in a convent with a group of dutiful nuns led by rigid Mother Superior, but she has never felt more out of place until the power of music steps in.  Featuring a cast that will bring audiences joyfully to their feet, see Sister Act the Musical from Friday, March 17 through Sunday, March 19 then Wednesdays through Sundays through April 9.

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‘Sister Act the Musical’ cast Photo courtesy of Michelle McGrath/Company Theatre

Sister Act the Musical is part of Company Theatre’s stellar 2017 season which includes Disney’s The Little Mermaid with an adult cast this summer.  Auditions will be held on May 3.  Click here for audition details.

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Company Theatre presents Disney’s ‘The Little Mermaid’ this summer. Courtesy of the Company Theatre

Other highlights of the season include the psychological thriller, Lizzie Borden in October and the holiday family musical comedy, Company for the Holidays in December.  All performances take place at the Company Theatre, 30 Accord Park Drive in Norwell, Massachusetts.  Get discount tickets on Family & Friends Fridays. Click here, call the box office at 781-871-2787 for tickets or email sally@companytheatre.com for more information.  Follow the Company Theatre on Facebook.

VOCES8’s Barnaby Smith talks power of music, music foundation, and long-awaited Boston concert debut

Driven by a Capella inspiration such as The King’s Singers and Manhattan Transfer, dynamic, internationally-renowned vocal group, VOCES8 will make their Celebrity Series of Boston debut following Valentine’s Day on Wednesday, February 15 and Thursday, February 16 at Longy’s Pickman Hall at 8 p.m.  Mastering a variety of music genres, this multi-talented British octet has toured around the world and after the tremendous success of their previous album, Winter, they are now working on a new album.

VOCES8’s Artistic Director Barnaby Smith talks about his extensive music background, VOCES8 charitable foundation, and their first appearance in Boston, which is a destination that has been on their bucket list for a long time.  Click here for more information and for tickets to their upcoming Celebrity Series of Boston debut.

Jeanne Denizard:  You are known for your work in Choral, Baroque, Classical, and film genres.  What first attracted you to music and what led you to pursue a music career?

Barnaby Smith:  I started singing at age 3 because my parents used to run an amateur music group. We did concerts once a month up in the rural North of England. Despite crying from the beginning to end of my debut solo at just age 4, I went on to love making music.  So my parents sent me for an audition to be a Chorister at Westminster Abbey.  I passed, and left home to sing in the Abbey choir at age 8 and never looked back.  The choirboys are aged 8 to 13.  We used to sing 4 hours a day 6 days a week, and by the time you have done this for 5 years, I think singing is in your bones. It was an incredible opportunity at such a young age and instilled a sense of such great enjoyment that I never wanted to stop.

JD:  Were you always interested in those specific genres or was it another music genre that first grabbed your attention? 

BS:  There is something special about experiencing the sound of the human voice live in the room, and that is what has always grabbed me about choral music. When someone sings to you, you get a sense that you connect with them on a very deep level, like they are sharing something very personal with you.  You can really see deep into their soul. If you then consider that choral music uses multiple singers and that these singers work together to create beautiful harmony as well, then I can’t imagine ever enjoying anything else more. I feel so grateful to be able to take part in such an activity as my job.

JD:  VOCES8 tackles a number of music genres such as pop and Renaissance polyphony.

BS:  Singing lots of different music in different styles is what keeps our job so wonderfully engaging.  We get to enjoy many different styles of music, but we also have the challenge of trying to master them too.  Singing a Bach motet requires a very different skill set than scatting a jazz tune. We have eight wonderful personalities and it is exciting that everyone brings an area of expertise, so we can all always be learning from each other too.

JD:  VOCES 8 can be heard regularly on the radio and also involved with the charitable music foundation, VOCES Cantabiles Music.  Please tell me about that.

BS:  When we founded the group in 2003, we wanted to sing concerts, but we also felt so fortunate for the upbringing in music that we had been afforded, we wanted to give something back. For this reason we also formed our own charitable trust called the VCM Foundation. We made it our mission to get as many young people singing as possible. If children are encouraged to use their voices, it inspires inner confidence to be heard and communicate. Music is also a wonderful thing for young people to experience and will help them appreciate the world around them.

Since we began our work, we have spent a decade researching and writing The VOCES8 Method, a set of musical games and exercises that are designed to work the brain in a way that will help children to develop their linguistics and numeracy skills.  The method is also designed so it is broadly applicable in a class of 6 or group of 600. We preach this method everywhere we go because everyone has a voice and it is free to use your voice, so all children should be encouraged to get involved, experiencing music, and get creative. The VOCES8 Method book is published by Edition Peters and since its publication, has been experienced by over 500,000 children across three continents.

We are also now fortunate to run a centre of singing excellence in a beautiful church built by Sir Christopher Wren who also built St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Our centre is called the Gresham Centre and our Foundation is based there. It is in the heart of London and we always encourage any choirs visiting London to get in touch with us in the hope that we can extend them an invite to discover the incurable acoustic of the building and meet and sing with us.

Celebrity Series of Boston presents VOCES8 on Wednesday, February 15 and Thursday, February 16 at Longy’s Pickman Hall in Cambridge, MA at 8 p.m.  Click here for tickets and for more information on Celebrity Series of Boston.

 

From Renaissance to pop music, Barnaby Smith talks VOCES8’s exciting Celebrity Series of Boston debut

Sometimes a great sound is born out of friendship.  In the days following Valentine’s Day, Celebrity Series of Boston is proud to present British octet group, VOCES8, a renowned a cappella group that has toured all over the world and tackles a variety of genres from Renaissance to contemporary pop music.  They will make their Boston debut on Wednesday, February 15 and 16 at Longy’s Pickman Hall in Cambridge, MA at 8 p.m.

VOCES8’s Artistic Director Barnaby Smith talks about how the group was formed, its music roots, and what is in store for their exciting Boston debut.  Click here for more information on VOCES8 and for tickets.

Jeanne Denizard:  This is British octet group, VOCES8’s Celebrity Series of Boston debut.  Which songs are you most excited about sharing with Boston?  How do you select the songs you perform?

Barnaby Smith:  We are excited to come to Boston for the first time as a group because we know what an incredible city it is for the arts.  I am excited to sing our Renaissance Polyphony because Boston has such a wonderful tradition for early music, and I always find it thrilling to sing this specialist style of music to a knowledgeable audience.

We choose our songs in a number of different ways. Often festivals ask for specific repertoire or programme their festival on a specific theme, which guides us in uncertain directions. This is mainly true for the classical repertoire. As Artistic Director, I then listen to a lot of music and select songs I think the group will sing well or fit a theme I am working on for programming. Group members can make suggestions for all genres of music, but our pop and jazz rep is chosen a lot more by the members and arrangers of the group who might have ideas for great songs they think would work well for our voices and specific lineup. It’s always a collaborative process, and one of the exciting parts of my job as artistic director is to glue all the moving parts together into one great vehicle.

JD:  VOCES8 tackles a number of music genres such as pop and Renaissance polyphony.

BS:  Singing lots of different music in different styles is what keeps our job so wonderfully engaging.  We get to enjoy many different styles of music, but we also have the challenge of trying to master them too.  Singing a Bach motet requires a very different skill set than scatting a jazz tune. We have eight wonderful personalities and it is exciting that everyone brings an area of expertise, so we can all always be learning from each other too.

JD:  What inspired you to put this group together in 2003 and how did the group members meet?

BS:  All the original members were in the RSCM’s Millennium Youth ChoirRSCM’s Millennium Youth Choir in the UK.  When we all got a little old to be in the choir anymore, my brother Paul and I decided that we’d still like to see all our friends from choir during the school holidays, so we set up singing sleepovers. We’d all get together on Friday, rehearse on Saturday and sing a concert on Sunday. Everyone had to sleep on the floor of our parents’ house and we’d have a good party somewhere along the way too.  It all began out of friendship and our enjoyment of singing together.

We then got invited to a choral competition in Italy in 2005. The competition offered to pay our flights and accommodation to go to Italy for a week. We thought it would be a great holiday, so off we went without doing too much rehearsal or expecting much. When we arrived, it turned out to be a very serious competition. We rallied, did three days of intensive rehearsal, and somehow won the competition. The rest is history.

JD:  Is there a standout or unconventional song that was particularly challenging that you surprisingly share in your repertoire? 

BS:  In our programme in Boston, I am going to select The Luckiest.  The Luckiest is a song originally by Ben Folds who sings it solo at the piano. We have had to turn that into an eight part piece of choral music. It requires the singers to perform with perfect blend and also for us to find a very varied collection of colours to paint the wonderful text. The interesting thing about it and the reason I am proud of the group is that I hope it sounds easy when we sing it  I hope we’re a little like the Swan who is kicking furiously under the water but looks so elegant above it as he glides along. I think this is the ultimate test for a group’s technique and I am thrilled with how accomplished we have become at performing that particular song.

JD:  How did you decide on your sound?  Having toured all over Europe at some of the most prestigious venues in the world, was there one that you couldn’t believe you were onstage at?

We grew up listening to some of the great a cappella groups such as the King’s Singers, The Swingles, The Manhattan Transfer, and The Real Group which has always inspired us. We wanted to achieve the same technical perfection as these groups, but create our own sound so we chose a unique line-up with two females and six male singers. We have two countertenors who sing alto, a very British choral style. When we put the eight voices together, it creates quite a unique concoction. We work very hard without technique to be able to blend this sound.

We have been very fortunate to sing in many incredible venues across the world. Often I have to pinch myself!  Perhaps most recently would be our Christmas concert in Tokyo Opera City. It is a concert hall with a wooden ceiling as tall as a cathedral. It’s an incredible space.  Sometimes I think we take for granted the wonderful spaces we get to sing in. One of my New Year’s resolutions this year is to take a photo documentary of every hall so that I can remember them in years to come.

See VOCES8 on Wednesday, February 15 and Thursday, February 16 at 8 p.m.  Click here for the full list of performances and for tickets. Subscriptions and gift cards are also available.  Celebrity Series of Boston thrives on support from the community. Click here for a variety of ways to support Celebrity Series of Boston.

Illuminated by candlelight, Saint Anselm College celebrates the season with their 18th annual DecemberSong

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Photo courtesy of Keri McAndrews For more of her work, visit photosbykeri.com. Nativity scene set up at Saint Anselm College.

 

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Photo courtesy of Keri McAndrews For more of her work, visit photosbykeri.com. Photo of Saint Anselm College Alumni Hall.

 

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Photo courtesy of Keri McAndrews For more of her work, visit photosbykeri.com. Cross situated over the altar inside the Abbey Church.

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Photo courtesy of Keri McAndrews For more of her work, visit photosbykeri.com. The domed acoustic ceiling inside the Abbey Church.

A vast, gorgeous, brightly lit Christmas tree sits at Davison Hall, signaling the start of one of Saint Anselm College’s one of the most highly anticipated times of the year. In a whirlwind of seasonal events such as their charitable program, Christmas Giving Tree Project to their annual Gingerbread Decorating Contest, it is no wonder that collegemagazine.com hailed Saint Anselm College as the top college with Christmas spirit. Adorned in Christmas wreaths and a variety of festive decorations strewn up by students and staff alike, Saint Anselm College revels in this exciting and joyful season. Click here for more on Saint Anselm College located in Manchester, New Hampshire and follow them on Facebook.

Also a time of contemplation and community in the Benedictine tradition, the community, students, colleagues, and alumni cherish gathering each year at The Abbey Church to celebrate DecemberSong, a free event by candlelight, at the start of the advent season. Featuring the Saint Anselm Abbey Choir, this year’s DecemberSong service took place on a peaceful, clear, and chilly Saturday evening on December 3 at Saint Anselm Abbey Church, 100 Saint Anselm College Drive in Manchester, Massachusetts at 7:30 p.m.

Brick laden and adorned with an amber jeweled cross floating aloft the altar, the Abbey Church offers a warmth and subtlety in its surroundings. Overhead is a domed, carefully detailed acoustic ceiling that gathers light and reverberates sound.   A full house greeted the Saint Anselm Abbey Choir when they entered the church dressed in black in white, each carrying a single lit candle. Their voices lift and resonate, greeting the church with Bach’s Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme.   What followed was an evening of well known advent songs such as O Come, O Come, Emmanuel and Ave Maria, traditional Christmas songs such as The First Noel and Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus, and in between inspirational readings, prayer, and sacred scriptures shared by candlelight. Readings included A Christmas Hymn by Martin Luther, advent hymns, and Susan Cherwien meditations. Led by Director of Liturgical music Eric J. Bermani and accompanied by Brother Andrew Thornton, DecemberSong published the words and music of the evening’s songs to encourage audience participation.

First envisioned by Director Emeritus of the Choir, Father Bede Camera O.S.B, this year marks DecemberSong’s 18th year and the Saint Anselm Abbey Choir will celebrate their 30th anniversary in 2017. Click here for further information about the Saint Anselm College Choir.