The joy of the holiday season rings loud and clear on Tuesday, December 5 at 7:30 PM, when the Pasadena Chorale presents Shawn Kirchner’s “The Light of Hope Returning” at the First United Methodist Church Pasadena, located at 500 E. Colorado Blvd.
The Chorale’s founding artistic and executive director, conductor and composer Jeffrey Bernstein told us, “‘The Light of Hope Returning’ is a celebration of the power of the human spirit and about community, a reminder that goodness springs from each of us. To hear the piece live is to be immersed in that conviction and to experience the sense of hope firsthand. There is something unique about hearing music live. It truly creates an experience of community. December is a beautiful time to attend a choral concert, and Shawn’s piece is the perfect destination!”
A committed educator and advocate for children, Bernstein teaches at the Pasadena Waldorf School and is a resident of Altadena.
Shawn Kirchner, a composer, arranger, songwriter, and superb tenor singer based in Los Angeles, has created a program that is designed to please all music palates by his graceful treatment of holiday hymns and secular standards, adding eclectic and vibrant arrangements to infuse the traditional tapestry with surprising new energy. Kirchner’s music finds a middle ground between classical choral and instrumental traditions and the inheritance of the folk, carol, and hymn traditions. For instance, the tender, slightly melancholy 16th-century German hymn, “Es Ist Ein Rose Entsprungen, (Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming)” is lifted by a sinuous, slinky sax phrasing reminiscent of Kenny G. Fans of Sting, who recorded this anonymous Marian hymn on his album titled “If on a Winter’s Night,” will appreciate this modern approach.
Composer Kirchner describes his “new folk oratorio” this way: “We figuratively sit at the fireside of a wise matriarch soloist as a tale unfolds of the ‘light of hope’ waiting on the other side of darkness. Good cheer abounds in the face of tyrant threats and troubled times.” “The Light of Hope Returning” features the texts of British-American novelist Susan Cooper, known for her award-winning “Dark is Rising” sequence. He’s also written song cycles for other works based upon the poems of Pablo Neruda, Sylvia Plath, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and William Blake. His original songwriting ranges in style from jazz and gospel to folk and bluegrass; the latter featured on his CD Meet Me on the Mountain.
“The Light of Hope Returning” features 90 adult singers, plus 31 High Notes singers representing the Chorale’s new choir of middle schoolers from the area. The live performance will be supported by seven instruments, including piano, strings, flute, saxophone, and dulcimer. You can watch a brief video of the performance on YouTube.
Although some performers may choose to wear protective masks, and audience members are welcome to do the same, masks are not required to attend the performance.
The Chorale first performed the Los Angeles premiere of Kirchner’s work in December 2022. The Pasadena Chorale continues to offer all of its concerts at no cost to audiences with its innovative “Listen First, Then Give” ticketing initiative. While tickets are free, a ticket reservation is required to attend. Donations to the Pasadena Chorale are encouraged.
There’s an undeniable alchemy to being in the presence of a live performance, in real life, in real time, something we all sort of lost track of during COVID. Just as digital tools can transform the appearance of a face or body with a few skilled clicks, today’s audio technology can manipulate any vocal into near-perfection, but those who dare to perform live before real people have no such luxury. It’s this lack of filtering that creates immediacy and intimacy.
A production like “The Light of Hope Returning” isn’t simply heard; it’s experienced viscerally. Goosebumps, tears and laughter may erupt spontaneously, along with (for some) a desire to join the singing. For those so moved, mark your calendars for August 2024, when The Pasadena Chorale will hold open auditions for new voices.