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45th Christmas at Christ Church: “Such Wondrous Tidings”

Guilford, Vt. – Friends of Music at Guilford (FOMAG) presents its 45th Christmas at Christ Church performances on Friday, Dec. 15, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, Dec. 16, at 4:00 p.m. That historic building is on Rt. 5 at the corner of Melendy Hill Rd., just over a mile from Exit 1 off Interstate 91.

This season’s theme, “Such Wondrous Tidings,” is the title of one of ten mostly 15th-century carols to be sung by the thirteen-voice Guilford Chamber Singers, directed for a sixth season by Tom Baehr. The group includes sopranos Catie G. Berg, Christina Gibbons, and Robin Wolf; altos Jenny Holan, Laurie Schneski, Susan Stember Buhlmann, and Joy Wallens-Penford; tenors Steven John, Bill Johnson, and Peter Tracy; and basses Calvin Farwell, Tom Green, and Peter Nadolny. Most of them, including Baehr, are active with other area choruses and church choirs.

For this concert, Baehr drew from several sources that utilize poems in Sloane MS 2593. This is one of over four thousand manuscripts compiled by Sir Hans Sloane (1660-1753) on many topics of interest to him. Willed to the British government, they became the impetus for establishing the British Museum in 1759. Carol texts from Manuscript 2593 have inspired many settings from their own time through the present.

Along with anonymous pieces, attributed by some to composer John Dunstaple (ca. 1390-1453), Baehr found reworkings by William Rockstro from English Carols of the 15th Century (1891), a setting by Richard Terry from his Twelve Christmas Carols (1912), two offerings by Martin Shaw, editor of The Oxford Book of Carols (1928), and recent settings by Philip W. J. Stopford and John Corina. In addition, he has included his own 2014 setting of a 14th century text from Hermann Daniel’s Thesaurus Hymnologicus (1855).

The Chamber Singers portion of the program is enhanced with instrumental introductions and thematically related interludes by a few Guilford Chamber Players, under the direction of Amy Cann.

Then Don McLean, a FOMAG founder, transports the audience to another time and place with his dramatic reading of the holiday classic “A Child’s Christmas in Wales,” scripted for BBC radio broadcast by poet and writer Dylan Thomas. Popular with British radio listeners in the late 1940s and with American audiences on Thomas’s stateside reading tours in the early 1950s, this story was performed at the very first Christ Church event, and more often than any other tale in the annual series.

After the reading, musicians and audience share a few Christmas carols before heading away into the dark as the church bell rings out across Guilford’s Algiers village.

Christmas at Christ Church is admission-free; generous door donations are encouraged since they are shared with the Christ Church Guilford Society for upkeep of the building and grounds. Founded two hundred years ago, in 1817, the church has not had a resident congregation in more than a century.

A FOMAG holiday boutique offers cards, recordings, and warming long-sleeved tees and sweatshirts for audience gift-giving or personal use. For further information, contact the FOMAG office at (802) 254-3600 or by email at office@fomag.org. See the online calendar at www.fomag.org for other 52nd season programs.