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Chamber Singers to ring “The Bells of Christmas” at 2 p.m. Sunday

WORTHINGTON -- "The Bells of Christmas" will be rung in grand fashion at 2 p.m. Sunday when the Worthington Chamber Singers are in concert at First United Methodist Church.

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The Worthington Chamber Singers rehearse Tuesday at Minnesota West Community and Technical College in advance of their Sunday concert. (Tim Middagh/Daily Globe)

WORTHINGTON -- “The Bells of Christmas” will be rung in grand fashion at 2 p.m. Sunday when the Worthington Chamber Singers are in concert at First United Methodist Church.

  “We haven’t had an Advent or Christmas concert in a few years, but following our most recent one, I thought it would be fun to have bells as a concert theme,” said Eric Parrish, director of the select local group.

  Hence, the ensemble will fill the downtown church’s sanctuary with tales of Christmas bells in several style variations.

  “There are so many pieces that include bells,” said Parrish. “This allows us to do some secular songs, such as ‘Silver Bells,’ ‘Jingle Bells’ and ‘Carol of the Bells’ as well as a few of the sacred Christmas tunes the Chamber Singers are more traditionally known for.

  “We’ve definitely branched out in style, with some jazz and contemporary numbers.”

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  A dramatic 2000 composition by Jonathan Dove, “Ring Out, Wild Bells,” is the concert’s centerpiece, according to Parrish.

  “It’s based on the text by Alfred Lord Tennyson and talks about ringing out the old year and ringing in the new,” explained Parrish.

  “Each new year is a time of renewal and rebirth, of reflection and new opportunity, and a new year is also about forgiveness and letting things go,” he continued.

  “That has a lot to do with why we celebrate at this time of year, and the idea of bells ringing gives voice to that.”

  Parrish’s cast of singers is a mix of old and new participants, adding that several members are current or retired music teachers.

  “We have the talent and the numbers this year, which is super,” said Parrish. “I appreciate the chance to tackle difficult repertoire with them - including the really challenging Dove piece.”

  Alto Brenda DeSmith has been part of the Chamber Singers since the group’s beginnings, in the mid 1990s.

  “We enjoy working with Eric, and Chamber Singers is a wonderful chance to sing great music with a bunch of dedicated singers,” said DeSmith.

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  “Eric brings a zest and enthusiasm for the craft of music, and he’s able to elicit the very best from us.”

  DeSmith finds Parrish’s musical passion similar to that of the Chamber Singers’ founding director, the late Joan Mork.

  Mork, a Worthington native and consummate musician who died in late August, guided the group for its first 10 years, and Sunday’s concert is being dedicated to her.

  “Each director has contributed to the group’s musical development, and Joan’s gift was to help us embrace the message of the music and to pass that along to our audience,” related DeSmith.

  “Eric’s talent is his ability to convey the musical style he wants to attain in each piece, and then give us the necessary tools to produce that kind of sound.”

  In a tribute to Mork, a number DeSmith and other longtime Chamber Singers consider Mork’s signature tune (“E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come” by Paul Manz) will be sung as part of the concert.

  “We’re inviting anyone who sang under Joan’s direction to join us for that song,” said DeSmith.

  Tenor Daren Flinck is a newer Chamber Singers recruit, but one who is no less appreciative of the group’s rich history and standards.

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  “Eric has done a phenomenal job of picking a nice blend of Christmas music - some of it very familiar, some more challenging,” said Flinck.

  “The Chamber Singers is a hallmark of this community and the way it treasures music and keeps that focus intact.”

  An ongoing Chamber Singers tradition is keeping the concert free and open to the public. A freewill offering will be accepted, with proceeds donated to a local nonprofit organization or charity.

  In addition, the Worthington Brass will play selections for the concert prelude and intermission.

  For both Parrish and Mork, the Worthington Chamber Singers represents a labor of love and a chance to share a challenging and diverse musical repertoire during the Advent season.

  “Especially at this point in history, art and music have never been more important,” opined Parrish.

  “Working with the Chamber Singers is one of the most significant things I have done in this community. I’m passionate about making music with these people, and sharing our combined efforts with a local audience.”

  The Worthington Chamber Singers’ concert, “The Bells of Christmas,” is at 2 p.m. Sunday at Worthington’s First United Methodist Church, 408th 11th St. A freewill offering will be taken, and a reception will immediately follow the performance in the church’s fellowship hall.

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