WCC to bring taste of American choral music to Ireland

The Williamsport Civic Chorus is taking their show on the road, as they will begin their concert tour of Ireland June 28, bringing the Emerald Isle a taste of American choral music. As a treat for their local fans, the chorus will perform selections from the tour “across the pond” in a free concert at 7:00 p.m. Monday at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, 142 Market Street.

The goal of the concert is to give the chorus a non-pressure performance in their hometown, and to sing for their friends and family who are unable to attend the trip with them.

“I love the acoustics there,” said Michael Connor, music director of the Williamsport Civic Chorus. “Aside from being our home for Monday night rehearsals, St. Mark’s will be similar to some of the amazing natural acoustics of the stone cathedrals of Ireland.”

Originally, the idea of going on a tour to Ireland came about because Connor’s grandfather had always wanted to see where his family was from.

“My intention was to take him with us,” Connor said. “Sadly, because of failing health, the decision was made for him not to go on the trip. The good news is that he will be able to observe our performances on the live broadcast from Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.”

In addition to performances in Dublin, the WCC will also perform in Cork and Galway.

The WCC has a wonderful program of American choral music planned, including works that reflect early vocal styles such as William Billings’ “Black is the Color of My True Love’s Hair,” and songs that reflect our national diversity, like Moses Hogan’s “Hear My Prayer,” an uplifting African-American spiritual. Other selections include Aaron Copland’s rousing “The Promise of Living,” and composer Randall Thompson’s interpretation of American poet Robert Frost’s well-loved work, “The Road Not Taken,” as well as William Ernest Henley’s seminal poem, “Invictus,” set to music by Connor.

“Planning music for a tour overseas is always exciting,” Connor said. “The wonderfully resident spaces that we will be singing in and the beautiful instruments that will be playing with us call for very specific kinds of music to highlight the moments.”

The chorus previously traveled to Eastern Europe in 1999, performing in the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary, under the baton of Ned Wetherald.

“We have 46 people going, most of whom are members of the chorus; and about 40 of that number will be singing,” said Tina Swisher, publicist for the WCC and member of the chorus. “We began planning to do a concert tour of Ireland about three years ago, thinking it would be a great way to celebrate our 75th anniversary.”

Four concerts are scheduled on the tour, each planned to take place in some of the most breathtaking venues to be found in Ireland.

Their first concert is in Galway, at St. Nicholas Collegiate Church, where they will perform a selection of American choral classics by composers as varied as Moses Hogan, Aaron Copland, and also some of Connor’s own works.

Next, the chorus will travel to Cork, where they will serenade visitors to St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral, a major tourist destination.

The final two concerts will take place in the capital city of Dublin, where they will be honored to sing the Evensong service at the fabled St. Patrick’s Cathedral, and wrap up their performance tour the next day at Christ Church Cathedral.

When they’re not performing, the chorus will visit the sites that have made Ireland a tourist destination for so many: Kylemore Abbey and the Cliffs of Moher are on their list, as well as the Guinness Storehouse, Blarney Castle, and Bunratty Castle and Folk Park.

“As much as we are looking forward to performing in such fabled venues, we eagerly anticipate being tourists, too!” Swisher said. “We’re so looking forward to bringing a little bit of the Lycoming Valley and its vibrant music scene to the Emerald Isle.”

Since the tour in Ireland is such an awesome experience for everyone, Connor said he has tried not to think too much about what’s next for the chorus.

“The group’s size that we’re taking to Ireland is substantial, but many of our members just couldn’t do the trip with us,” he said. “Next time, a trip in continental USA to Boston or historic Williamsburg to sing American Revolutionary music sounds fancy, though!”

While the reasons for this tour are different for every member of the chorus, for many it is their first time out of the United States.

“For me, I’m going for my grandfather, Harry Connor, because he can’t,” Connor said.

The WCC’s performance at St. Mark’s is free, so no tickets are required, but donations are accepted.

“We would love to share our music with our community before we perform on the world’s stage,” Connor said. “Come join us.”