Festival Chorus concert brings generations together

One of the annual traditions of the Rye Country Day School community is the Festival Chorus concert, which will take place on Jan. 26 this year. Photo courtesy Mary Marcell

One of the annual traditions of the Rye Country Day School community is the Festival Chorus concert, which will take place on Jan. 26 this year. Photo courtesy Mary Marcell

Rye Country Day School’s annual Festival Chorus concert on Sunday, Jan. 26 combines the school’s Upper School Concert Choir, consisting of students from grades nine through 12, with an adult choir of parents, faculty, staff, alumni singers and friends of the school to perform a major work from the choral repertoire.

This year, the Festival Chorus, which will perform for the public at SUNY Purchase, has prepared a piece by German composer Karl Jenkins called “The Armed Man,” subtitled “A Mass for Peace,” which takes texts from a variety of different musical and cultural traditions and combines them into a single, major choral work.

Mary Marcell, the school’s Music Department chairwoman for the last 22 years, started the concert series in 1996. Its staging moved from the school’s auditorium to the SUNY Purchase college campus three years ago to accommodate a larger chorus and a larger audience.

Years after Marcell first assembled a group of 40 parents and faculty to perform a Mozart requiem, the 2014 concert will feature more than 200 people onstage, including a choir of about 170 singers, ranging in age from 13 to the mid-80s, and a full chamber orchestra of more than 30 musicians.

This year, 78 students from the upper school choir will join a selection of their parents, friends, participating school staff and choir alumni.

“It is a very inspiring thing for me when my students, who went through choir and have since gone off to college and moved back to the New York area, come back to sing with us. It’s very sweet,” Marcell said.

Ellen Sluder, 36, a 1995 alumna of Rye Country Day who was a member of the choir throughout her time at school, said that being back under Marcell’s direction is like reliving one of the best parts of high school.

“Seeing and singing with the current students takes me back to happy memories. I am always so impressed with them,” said Sluder, now a business executive and mother. “I really enjoy reconnecting with my former teachers—but now as an adult. They were an important part of me becoming who I am.”

Each year, Marcell chooses and contracts the particular piece of music and hires the accompanying full chamber orchestra, usually a pickup group of freelance musicians from the New York area who are predominantly professional, although this year’s group also contains some advanced students and a few parents and parents of alumni.

In addition to the concert being a cross-generational experience, Marcell said she usually tries to come up with a thematic program, although this will be one of the rare years in which the Festival Chorus performs a single work rather than a varied program.

“The idea of taking people on an emotional journey along with their musical one is one that I focus on,” Marcell said. The music department chairwoman said she likes to select the different repertoires that mix genres of music.

This year’s selected work, “The Armed Man,” is a very powerful piece, Marcell said.

“It begins with the first movement that is based on a French medieval song ‘L’Homme Armee.’ The second movement is a Muslim call to prayer, the adham,” she said.

The third movement is a Latin mass, a ceremonial Catholic hymn, which is followed by an Indian Sanskrit text and a poem by a Japanese poet from the post-atomic area, Marcell said; then come pieces by 19th century English poet Lord Alfred Tennyson and English writer Rudyard Kipling set to music.

Marcell said she went to a boarding school in Massachusetts that staged an annual concert in which alumni and students reunite for a song-filled weekend. Marcell said she wanted to bring the tradition to Rye Country Day because she loved the idea of intergenerational singing, which can be so valuable since both choirs supplement one another in novel ways.

“At this type of intergenerational concert, it is interesting for the students to see their teachers, and for students to see their parents, in different light,” Marcell added.

The Festival Chorus concert is one of several shows the Rye Country Day concert choir class does over the course of the year. Every three years, the Upper School chorus goes on a choir trip, and, earlier this spring, it traveled to Venice and performed a mass in St. Mark’s Basilica. The group also traveled to Croatia, and sang in a 600-year-old church in Dubrovnik.

Tickets—$25 for adults and $5 for students—are on sale now for the 3 p.m. show and are available at the door and at the school main reception desk, or they can be purchased from a choir member.

Contact: liz@hometwn.com