A diverse holiday concert, with a few surprises, was held Thursday Dec 13 at Seward High School Auditorium. The school segment featured three traditional Christmas tunes performed by the 18-piece Seward Elementary School Beginning and Advanced Bands. Four more complex holiday-themed tunes followed that by the 11-member Seward High School Choir, now known as the Seahawk’s voice; and an original Christmas duet written by Mark Chase, accompanied by Seward School’s music teacher Breighley Sexton.
The second half of the concert featured a series of pieces performed by the Seward Community Choir, accompanied by Sue McClure, which had been chosen from the decades-old high school song collection, including “The Bells” by Frank Ahrold (and Edgar Allan Poe), “Gesu Bambino”,” How Lovely Are the Messengers” by Felix Mendelssohn, and “Silver Bells,”composed by Jay Livingston and Ray Evans.
The elementary band students were endearing as they earnestly performed simple versions of Jolly Old St. Nick, Jingle Bells, Good King Wenceslaus to the best of their ability as Ms. Sexton, their new teacher, who towered over them, kept time. Former Seward music teacher Kyle Schneider is now directing the Homer High School choirs.
The Seahawk’s Voice’s young women looked dashing in their new choir garb: fairy-like green flowing dresses and black shawls. Hayden Beard, the choir’s only young man, also looked nifty in traditional black suit and bow tie. Their “African Noel,” featured traditional African harmonies and hand-clapping, and was accompanied by Chase on the bongo drum. “Hanukkah Nagilah” was hauntingly beautiful, with its minor-key melodies interspersed with hand clapping, and the joyous speeding up typical of Jewish celebration music. A smaller group of singers assumed an elegant seated montage for “Baby it’s Cold Outside,” by Johnny Mercer. As each singer held her own microphone, the individuality and character of their voices magically appeared.
Sexton and Chase performed “A Winter Wish,” a contemporary sentimental duet written by Chase who wrote this song about yearning to be with one’s true love for Christmas. Sexton’s vocal accompaniment to Chase’s vocals and guitar was strikingly pure and melodious. Chase, a guitar student of Mark Teckenbrock’s, and SHS alumni appears to be a talented young singer/song writer with great prospects ahead. He said afterward he’d never written a song like it.
The Community Choir, which has expanded to include singers of all ages, even middle school, performed a varied selection of songs such as “A Ceremony of Carols,” by the late Sir Benjamin Britten, It began with “Hodie Christus natus est”, a processional piece sung in unison, based on the Latin Gregorian chant. The choir was accompanied by McClure on piano, who also directed from the piano bench as L. Kay Shock, their conductor for most of the season, had broken her arm. The other pieces, such as “This Little Babe,” were sung in Middle English, a sort of Shakespearean-sounding English, with some complex modern harmonies and challenging rhythms. McClure had gently instructed the audience not to applaud in between numbers, as is the tradition with such music, but at one point some people either forgot, or couldn’t contain themselves, and clapped anyway. She invited anyone in the community interested in singing with a choir, to join in when they begin rehearsing for their Spring concert again in mid-January.