Nursery rhymes such as "Itsy Bitsy Spider," "London Bridge is Falling Down" and "Mary Had a Little Lamb" have been passed through families for generations thanks to Mother Goose, who will appear in person (in the form of local public radio host Fiona Siobhan Powell) this month in Williamsport. The 70th anniversary season of the Williamsport Civic Chorus will kick off with "An Afternoon with Mother Goose," an event that will introduce local children to music, rhyme and folk stories and will give families a chance to sing along. The program will be held at 3 p.m. Nov. 24 at St. Luke Lutheran Church, 1400 Market St.
This type of nontraditional choral event allows the civic chorus to fulfill its mission statement of "making fine music accessible to all through education, participation and inspiration," according to Barbara Hemmendinger, civic chorus board member.
"We try to expand choral music beyond what people think of as the classic, European, dead composers," Hemmendinger said, adding that community partnerships are an important focus for the civic chorus.
The partnership with Powell, who refers to herself as a "folklorist and storyteller," will allow the stories of Mother Goose to come to life for local children and their families. Powell, who provides folklore-related programming at early childhood centers, is listed with the Pennsyvlania Council of the Arts. Her voice is known throughout the Lycoming County area from her work as host of WVYA's program "Williamsport Today." Powell will be adorned in full costume and accompanied by her spinning wheel as she spins tales of lore entwined with Welsh history.
Storytelling and folklore can help children to understand and deal with serious topics in a playful manner while providing shared melodies for families to pass down through generations, Hemmendinger noted in a recent copy of "Hitting the High Notes," the civic chorus newsletter.
The performance from the civic chorus will include new arrangements of familiar nursery rhymes - songs will be sped up, slowed down and at times sung in four-part harmonies.
"I think there's something in this for everybody," Hemmendinger said.
An important aspect of this performance is its accessibility for children and families. Admission is free for children ages 12 and under, and a grant from the Woodcock Foundation for the Appreciation of the Arts has allowed the civic chorus to offer a discounted admission on the first 50 adults tickets purchased.
"We really want to reach out to a lot of youngsters," Hemmendinger said.
Some past civic chorus performances also targeted local children: "Turtles and Dragons," in 2004, hosted children's book author Douglas Wood, 2007 brought "One Upon a Time" and in 2010 the civic chorus performed "Pirates of Penzance."
The upcoming performance was a collaboration between Powell and Ned Wetherald, who has served as music director for the civic chorus for the past 17 years.
"He always does innovative programming," Hemmendinger said of Wetherald. "He's always stretching our repertoire and collaborating."
Following this month's concert, the civic chorus will gear up for its spring performance of Johann Sebastian Bach's "Mass in B Minor."
"It's a huge choral work that's much more traditional," Hemmendinger said.
The spring concert is planned for 3 p.m. April 13 (Palm Sunday) at St. Mark's Lutheran Church, 142 Market St.
Ticket's for "An Evening with Mother Goose" can be purchased at Otto Bookstore, 107 W. Fourth St.; Robert M. Sides Family Center, 201 Mulberry St.; or at the door.