Conspirare Children's Choir: Birdsong for the holidays
Musical Director Nina Revering explains how a trip to the Holocaust Memorial Museum helped connect birdsong with this festive time of year
On Dec. 1, the award-winning, 70-member Conspirare Children's Choir will present, for one performance only, its holiday concert, Birdsong. Connecting birdsong with this, our most festive time of year, requires something of a cognitive leap, and Nina Revering, the musical director, took that mental jump this past summer. "Last June, the CCC toured Washington, D.C.," says Revering. "That was our first tour together. And we did all of the memorials and studied up on the history and sang everywhere we went. At that point, I had only two pieces of music that I had selected for this program, both entitled 'The Birds' – one in a setting by Benjamin Britten and the other by Canadian composer Eleanor Daley. 'The Birds' is a poem by a Frenchman named Hilaire Belloc. A very beautiful, very intriguing poem, and I loved the juxtaposition of these two pieces written by two different composers using the same text. But I had no idea what else we were going to sing."
No idea, that is, until she and the choir members visited the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. "I cannot share with you how absolutely powerful that place is. It's very intense and very ... well, I walked out of there and everything looked different. One of the most powerful moments was seeing some drawings by children that had lived in the camps. Pencil sketches, crayon pictures of flowers that they had drawn. Then, my dear friend and colleague Rick Gabrillo suggested 'Birdsong.' It was written by a composer named Paul Read, and the text was written by a child in a concentration camp. It's about looking at the world from a bird's-eye view. And it says things like, 'The world is full of love,' 'how fine it is to live,' 'how wonderful to be alive.' It touched me absolutely to the core, and I loved that it was connected to our bird theme and to our trip to Washington and the Holocaust Museum."
While CCC has been in existence only a scant two years, the group has proved so popular that the concert is already sold out, so if you wish to attend, you might want to get on the waiting list ASAP. As to adding a performance or two, Revering says, "We'll think about that for next year. Either that or find a bigger venue." A string quartet will accompany the choir, along with occasional piano, organ, double bass, and djembe, an African percussion instrument. For the traditionalists among us, the program will include an arrangement of an African-American spiritual about the Christmas story, "Go Where I Send Thee"; two movements from Vivaldi's Magnificat, sung in Latin; and a movement of Handel's Messiah. And while the program isn't really meant to be about Christmas, in a sense it is. "It's really about hope and joy," says Revering. "The joy of living." Few things could be more holy than that.
The Conspirare Children's Choir will present Birdsong Saturday, Dec. 1, 7:30pm, at St. Louis Catholic Church, 7601 Burnet Rd. For more information, call 476-5775 or visit www.conspirare.org.