‘Journey to a Distant Land’ with Chamber Singers

WORTHINGTON -- Area music enthusiasts needn't travel far to "Journey to a Distant Land;" only to the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church in downtown Worthington.

The Worthington Chamber Singers, directed by Eric Parrish, rehearse earlier this month at First United Methodist Church for their Dec. 10 holiday concert. (Tim Middagh/The Globe)

WORTHINGTON  - Area music enthusiasts needn’t travel far to “Journey to a Distant Land;” only to the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church in downtown Worthington.


There, at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10, the 26 Worthington Chamber Singers will present a holiday concert that will take the audience on a musical tour through the Christmas story.


“We’re doing more music this year rather than extremely difficult pieces,” said Eric E. Parrish, who is directing the local select ensemble for a ninth seasonal performance.



“We have a few new pieces that are really interesting, like a brand-new arrangement of ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ by Dan Forrest,” Parrish continued.


“It was just published in March, and it has a unique and beautiful sound to it, along with a featured soprano saxophone part that will be performed by Corky Johnson of Sioux Falls.”


Parrish chose the program with a few themes in mind.


“It focuses on Mary and Joseph having to go to Bethlehem, and the songs have a somewhat mysterious quality to them,” Parrish detailed.



“There’s a lot of movement within the songs, too, and we explore the concept that Advent is a preparation for us,” he continued.


“What are we being prepared for in our personal journeys, and what are we moving towards? And in which direction are we going, or what is our faith leading us to?”


Hence, the driving beat behind an a cappella, Pepper Choplin-arranged “The People Who Walk in Darkness” contrasts with the poignant “I Wonder as I Wander.” Also incorporated are the soothing rock-a-bye patterns displayed in Hal Hopson’s “Born in the Night, Mary’s Child” and in another Dan Forrest arrangement of a tender Scottish melody, “What Strangers Are These?”


“The cool thing about Christmas songs is that the arrangements can be as impactful as the songs themselves,” observed Parrish. “There are some terrific modern interpretations of old familiar carols.”



Parrish is pleased with the commitment and talent of his ensemble.


“We have a fair amount of new people this year, which is exciting, and I’ve been trying to diversify the style of singing they do,” he added.


“We’re also covering various aspects of a cappella singing, with half of the pieces accompanied and half unaccompanied or involving other instruments like drums, flute and soprano saxophone.”


With composers and arrangers of the highest pedigree (John Rutter’s “Distant Land: A Prayer for Freedom” is on tap, as is a piece by the late Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus and two arrangements from renowned choral director Dale Warland) providing the scores the Chamber Singers have been readying since September, Parrish is eager for the performance.


“This is a quality program of really accessible music with creative arrangements,” he assured.


Baritone Taylor Huwe, a 2016 Concordia College graduate who spent last year in Glauchau, Germany, on a prestigious Fulbright fellowship and now teaches music at Prairie Elementary, is one of Parrish’s newest Chamber Singers. He will be a soloist on one number.


“I enjoy being able to make great music and dig into some good repertoire,” said Huwe, a veteran of the Concordia Choir.


“It’s not often you can find a community ensemble that can perform this type of repertoire at that ability level, and it’s been a good way to branch out and meet new people.”


Huwe supervised six fourth-grade music programs last week and has high praise for the local music scene, all the way down to the elementary level.


“I’m seeing it’s possible to create beautiful and quality music with elementary students,” he endorsed. “They’re very capable, and they sometimes surprise and amaze me with what they can do.


“Worthington is a pretty welcoming community, and it’s been positive that our school music staff members are all so friendly and easy to get along with.”


For his part, Huwe embraces the Paulus piece, “The Road Home,” as well as the Rutter number that will serve as the concert’s finale.


Parrish, meanwhile, selected each song with a meaning or message in mind.


“Many of these songs have personal Christmas memories for me or have been part of my holiday celebrations, just as they have been for a lot of other people,” said Parrish.


“The ‘Gloria’ I sang in college at Gustavus, while ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ is one my dad used to sing every year with an elderly church member,” he listed.


“And ‘Let There Be Peace on Earth’ was the first song I sang publicly on Christmas Eve.”


Above all, Parrish hopes the Chamber Singers’ audience will find the “Journey to a Distant Land” program moving - in one way or another.


“This concert really showcases the musical talents of people in this area who are teaching music,” said Parrish, pointing out that several area music instructors are part of the group.


“It’s fun to have eight-part harmony that they can easily handle, and their sound is full,” he continued. “The fact that we can make music at this level so often here is an outstanding attribute of this community.”


The Worthington Chamber Singers’ Advent concert, “Journey to a Distant Land,” takes place at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10, at First United Methodist Church, 408 11th St., Worthington. There is no admission fee; a freewill offering will be taken.


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