Everyone’s Oratorio

Choral society debuts new Bob Chilcott work

Transylvania Choral Society is open — enthusiastically open — to anyone in the county who wants to sing. It’s an ensemble that operates very much in a spirit of camaraderie, and the result stays surprisingly tuneful. “While we may not have perfect voices consistently, nobody sticks out,” insists Irene Timmins, one of the society’s alto vocalists. “It comes together to make a pretty good sound.”

There are no auditions; interested singers can come to a few rehearsals before committing. Those who stick around get to be part of a 44-year-old tradition. Since 1975, the society has put together stirring programs for their biannual performances. 

Under conductor Dr. David Gresham, the Transylvania Choral Society welcomed more than 20 new members this season.

But this year’s winter show is causing a stir before it even hits the stage. On December 12, Transylvania Choral Society will present “Christmas Oratorio,” the North American premiere of a newly commissioned work by celebrated English composer Bob Chilcott.

Chilcott’s previous works have been performed by accomplished ensembles such as the New Zealand Youth Choir, the BBC Singers, and the Oxford Bach Choir with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. But there’s an everyman quality to much of Chilcott’s work, one that lends itself to performance by part-time singers who get involved in music for the pure enjoyment of it. 

That’s especially true with regard to his new “Christmas Oratorio,” Timmins believes. “Bob Chilcott has deliberately made it that way,” she says. “He’s got four hymns in there with words that everybody knows, but to his new music. It’s very accessible.” She quotes a recent print review of Chilcott’s piece: “‘He gave us another earworm tune.’ So, the melodies are easy to pick up.”

The society’s efforts continue to draw new members each year. Numbering about 80 vocalists in all — sopranos, altos, basses, and tenors — the vocal group, under the direction of conductor Dr.
David Gresham, “has had about 20 to 22 new people join this season,” Timmins says.

Past TCS productions have included the Lord Nelson “Mass,” Christmas “Midnight Mass” of Charpentier, Vivaldi’s “Gloria,” holiday carols from African and Spanish traditions, and even selections from South Pacific. And even for those who don’t choose to join the Choral Society onstage, there will still be an opportunity to get involved in the music. “We will have a little rehearsal of the four hymns in the work with the audience at the beginning,” Timmins says. “A little run-through just to familiarize them.” So shy concertgoers can still join in the musical fun from the safety of their seats.

However one does it, there are countless therapeutic benefits of singing, Timmins emphasizes. “Singing actually boosts your immune system, and there are studies showing that immunoglobulin is higher after rehearsal.” She notes that it’s important to stand up straight to project one’s voice properly. “So it improves your posture, too.” Add to that the social benefits, and it all adds up to a meaningful time.

While the Transylvania Choral Society is readying for the “Christmas Oratorio,” it’s already planning its next performance. The April 2020 program, “As Memories Fade,” will feature stirring works including Robert S. Cohen’s “Alzheimer Stories.” That’s also in keeping with the proven benefits of singing, Timmins points out. “It’s very good for mental alertness, concentration, and memory,” she says.

Transylvania Choral Society presents the North American premiere of Bob Chilcott’s “Christmas Oratorio” on Thursday, Dec. 12, 7:30pm at the Paul Porter Center for the Performing Arts at Brevard College. $10. For tickets and more information, see transylvaniachoralsociety.wordpress.com

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