The faculty of the brass section of the Juilliard School of Music arrived in Bar Harbor and we got to work. It was December of 2001. During rehearsals we discovered that these guys are talented, yes, but they were also regular people. We all made mistakes in the beginning and there was a lot of hilarity. But when the time came to perform, we were ready. Oh, the thrill of singing with such talented musicians! The Acadia Choral Society has been part of the scene of coastal Maine for many years. I was lucky enough to sing with this group when it was under the direction of Shirley Smith. It’s an amateur group and one of the laudable things about the chorus was all that was required to join was a willingness and desire to sing. Shirley encouraged and mentored many aspiring singers and musicians, both young and old. When I sang my first concert, the seven year old daughter of one of the altos played the organ for a Christmas carol. When we sang Ukrainian carols, in Russian no less, the ten year old daughter of another alto sang the middle verse solo while the rest of us hummed. Here’s an excerpt from Chapter 43, The Sacred and Profane, from my book,
“She taught us that there is no long A in Latin. “No, stop,” said Shirley. “There is no long a in Latin.” We had done it again. “It’s not kyri-a,” and she stressed the long a sound at the end, the way we had just sung it. “It’s kyri-eh,” she said, making a soft e sound at the end of the word. The next time I was in the office, I had an idea. Photocopying the necessary letters from a large-print calendar, I made a little sign. When I was done, I had the words ‘There is no A in Latin’ on two pieces of paper. I took them home, stapled them to two pieces of cardboard, and stapled the cardboard to a small stick. In the end, it looked like the kind of sign protesters carry. At the next choir rehearsal, I waited. Sure enough, when we sang the Kyrie, enough of us sang it with the long a for Shirley to stop us in exasperation. “Okay,” she began. Interrupting her I said, “Here Shirley, this might help,” and I handed over my little sign. Laughing, she held up the sign and the entire chorus broke into laughter. For the rest of the rehearsals that little sign lay on the piano, ready for deployment should we forget how to pronounce Kyrie.”
Over the years I sang with the Acadia Choral Society, I learned to sing in English, Latin, French, Spanish, German, and Russian. I watched as singers and musicians grew in skill and confidence under Shirley’s coaching and encouragement. I thrilled at arriving at the final chorus of Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus. “Alleluia, Amen,” we all sang together. Acadia performed two concerts each year, one in December and one in May. We always performed at St. Saviours Episcopal Church in Bar Harbor. While things are getting a little livelier in May, December in Bar Harbor is very quiet. There are almost no tourists and many shops are closed. On a sleepy winter weekend in 2001, some big city music came to town.
Here are two familiar Christmas carols performed by the Acadia Choral Society with the Juilliard brass. First, Joy to the World.
And, my personal favorite, Oh Come All Ye Faithful.
Here’s the Ukrainian carol in which a ten year old girl sings a solo, backed by the choir.