LB Chorale to perform American music that spans 400 years

The Long Beach Chorale will celebrate the holiday season with American Epiphanies, a program of American music spanning four centuries, at 7pm Saturday, Dec. 11 and 4pm Sunday, Dec. 12 at Grace First Presbyterian Church, 3955 North Studebaker Rd.
Artistic director Eliza Rubenstein, accompanied by Bob Gunn, will lead the Long Beach Chorale through a program featuring early American hymns, African-American spirituals, and a rare cantata that combines classical and jazz styles. Margaret Bonds’s “The Ballad of the Brown King” will showcase the talents of guest soprano Marlissa Hudson and the Long Beach Chorale’s pianist Bob Gunn. Langston Hughes wrote the texts for this virtually unknown cantata, which tells the story of the Epiphany with special emphasis on Balthasar, the so-called “brown king,” who became a symbol of African-American culture and pride through Hughes’s poetry and Bonds’s gospel- and blues-inspired music.
The performance represents a reunion of sorts: Rubenstein met Hudson more than 25 years ago in a children’s chorus in Missouri, and the two attended the same high school. Hudson is now a well known recitalist and operatic soprano who lives and works in Virginia.
“When I contacted her about the possibility of resurrecting this work together, she leaped at the idea, and I’m terribly excited that she’s coming all the way from the East Coast to make music with us,” Rubenstein said.
The program also features shape-note hymns, works by Charles Ives and Dave Brubeck, rollicking spirituals, and Kirke Mechem’s “Two Christmas Ballads.” Shape notes were used in the 1800s in New England. The musical notation became popular in the Southern states and many Southern churches still apply the practice.
Mechem’s “Two Christmas Ballads” tells two tales. In “Christmas Carol,” the choir sings of the music of angels as the baby Jesus falls peacefully asleep. “The Ballad of Befana” warns of the fate that befalls Befana, a housewife who puts off greeting the baby Jesus because she has an abundance of housework. When she finally finishes her chores, it’s too late, and she cannot find the child. Both pieces are adapted from American poems. Long Beach Chorale fans will remember “The Seven Joys of Christmas,” another Mechem favorite the group sang during its December 2008 show, A California Christmas.
Guests are invited to join members of the Long Beach Chorale for a reception following the performance. Refreshments and desserts will be available, and guests may also enter raffle drawings to win prizes.
Tickets cost $20 for adults and $15 for students and can be purchased at longbeachchorale.org or over the phone at (562) 427-1931.

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