Holiday music warms the Berkshires in midwinter — BTW column

Winds in the reeds
lift a clear tone in longing
for home — a heartbeat

Last year, on a snowy day, we heard a solo harp. Students sang a medieval carol and a modern one by Richard Wilbur, our former poet Laureate and former Berkshire voice in the hills, and Rick Spaulding talked gently, sadly, about enduring and finding light even in a world with more cracks in it than a Raku glaze. (And Raku glazes are finely beautiful.) Lessons and Carols will return to Williams College this weekend with a broad sweep of holiday music.

Last year, I went to the annual celebration for the first time in many years. An old friend suggested it, and I hadn’t come since my student days. It moved me. Voices and traditions blended. The music felt unadorned and beautifully spare.

Holiday music can take many forms, and some of them for me can feel overproduced, cajoling and crooning and insisting. Simplicity moves me more. Acoustic honesty and skill. This time of year, I listen for music that means what it says, and says it beautifully.

And we have a good week or three for music, as semesters wind down and the holidays wind up. The Williams Chinese Music Ensemble performs Little Sisters of the Grassland last night, and Angela Chan ’19 soloed on a string instrument, the pipa. Jazz comes tonight and winds on Friday.

Harp music returns to the The Red Lion Inn this week, as Teresa Mango joins a lineup of pianists and a cappella singers in the lobby; anyone is welcome to a hot drink by the fire (spiked or not, your call). She will also perform with Cantilena Chamber Choir at Trinity Church in Lenox this weekend, Russian sacred music by Tchaikovsky, traditional carols and new settings by Ola Gjeilo and Stephen Paulus, with oboist Joanne Nelson.

Kicking back, the Eagles Band will perform Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring, Rhapsody for Hanukkah and A Polar Express Medley and sing along to Auld Lang Syne. And Berkshire Lyric will perform on Dec. 16 as part of the GB Arts Market’s annual holiday fair at St. James Place.

Among the carols, new celebrations of light and joy are also appearing. The Soweto Gospel Choir of South Africa will perform at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Thursday Night in tribute to Nelson Mandela’s 100th birthday.

Sally and James Taylor will spend a family evening at MASS MoCA on Sunday.

And the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center will hold a sing-along with The Greatest Showman tomorrow (Thursday), inspired by the people who once performed in B.T. Barnum’s ring — imagine standing shoulder to shoulder with them and belting out …

‘When the sharpest words wanna cut me down
I’m gonna send a flood, gonna drown them out.
I am brave, I am bruised,
I am who I’m meant to be — this is me.’

If music be the food of love, play on!

By the Way Berkshires is a digital magazine exploring creative life and community — art and performance, food and the outdoors — and I’m writing it for you, with local voices, because I’ve gotten to know this rich part of the world as a writer and journalist, and I want to share it with you.

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