There will be Bach
This season, The Bach Choir of Bethlehem, under the direction of Greg Funfgeld, is performing "What Sweeter Music," two Christmas concerts, 8 p.m. Dec. 7, First Presbyterian Church of Allentown, Cedar Crest Boulevard and Tilghman Street, Allentown, and 4 p.m. Dec. 8, First Presbyterian Church of Bethlehem, 2344 Center St., Bethlehem.
The program features carols from across the centuries and around the world. The choir is accompanied by Thomas Goeman, organ and piano; Christopher Hanning, percussion, and members of the brass section of the Bach Festival Orchestra and Philadelphia Brass.
The concerts celebrate the release of The Bach Choir's newest CD, "A Child's Christmas in Bethlehem," on the Analekta label. In compiling the program, Funfgeld invited choir members to vote for their favorite carols from the new CD as well as The Bach Choir's popular four-volume "Christmas in Bethlehem."
"A Child's Christmas in Bethlehem" is the choir's first Christmas CD created with young listeners in mind. The CD combines music and spoken word to create a truly magical listening experience.
"'Tis the night before Christmas and all through the world people gather to share stories, poems and music of this wondrous night," begins Funfgeld, the narrator of "A Child's Christmas in Bethlehem."
The invitation draws us into a recording that includes carols spanning seven centuries and five languages as well as poems and stories that take us from Bethlehem in the Holy Land, where we are present at the birth of Jesus as seen through a child's eyes, to the diverse Christmas traditions of the Lehigh Valley's own Bethlehem in the present day.
If there is a prettier or more moving musical interpretation of the Christmas story, I don't know what it is.
The music for "A Child's Christmas in Bethlehem" was chosen by Funfgeld. The choir is joined by The Bel Canto Children's Chorus, directed by Joy Ondra Hirokawa. Additional color is provided by handbells, violins, guitar, and percussion.
The spoken word was compiled by Bridget George, Bach Choir's executive director, who says that the vision was to "create a recording for families to treasure in the belief that it is never too early - or too late - to instill the love of great music and literature and lift our spirits with this beautiful meditation on the meaning of Christmas. We wanted it to be pure delight for the ears and heart."
The voices of adults and children, directed by Touchstone Theatre's Bill George, bring us poems from Robert Herrick, William Blake, G.K. Chesterton, Anne Porter, and student poets from Freemansburg Elementary School, Bethlehem Area School District.
Jennie Gilrain, a fourth grade teacher at Freemansburg, received a grant from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts for a teacher-artist partnership, the "Homer to Hip Hop poetry project." George asked Gilrain if she could encourage her students to write poems about Christmas and subsequently chose four poems for the CD. One of the poems, Carla Victoria Lugo's "Puerto Rico's Christmas in Bethlehem," received first-place, elementary school division, in the 8th annual Lehigh Valley Press Student Poetry Project.
Stories include excerpts from "The Christmas Mystery" by Jostein Gaarder; "Snow Over Bethlehem" by Katherine Mihous, based on the early history of the Bethlehem Moravians, and "The Night We Almost Saw The Three Kings" by Zaida Padilla.
One of the highlights of the new CD is the first recording of "Sleep Well, Thou Child of God," with words and music by Bach Choir member David Umla. This moving carol, written in 2001 by Umla following the tragic events of 9/11, is performed in the Christmas concert.
Ticket information: bach.org, 610-866-4382, ext. 15 or 10