The Plymouth Congregational Church Choir is getting ready for a show. Its 40 singers — all volunteers — have been spending the bulk of their Thursday nights practicing for the church’s next big choral work: “Carols and Lullabies, Christmas in the Southwest,” which it will perform during a service Dec. 6.
The piece, composed by Conrad Susa, is written in Spanish, which the choir members will carefully sing as they try to perfectly nail each pronunciation and inflection. And choir member Janice Nicklaus says she’s confident the choir will be able to competently pull off the foreign language production because the church has the help of a skilled music director, Kim Manz.
“Kim is a great musician, and he never wastes one minute of rehearsals,” Nicklaus says. “Having a conductor that you can rely on is essential. He’s working with volunteers — all of these people are volunteers, so it’s crucial that he be the rock.”
Manz has been director of music at Plymouth., 925 Vt., for two years. He loves organizing big choral works in addition to the regular choral anthems the group performs each week for service.
Manz says the big choral works serve as an incentive for the choir, and that both the choir and the congregation look forward to them.
“Preparing two major choral works each year in addition to two anthems each week is a lot of work,” Manz says. “But it allows members of the choir to sing a vast amount of choral literature and perform monumental and significant works that they would otherwise never have the opportunity to sing.”
Plymouth has but putting on major choral works twice yearly since 1969. The tradition was launched by James Moeser, who a former a professor of organ at Kansas University and a former organist for Plymouth. The tradition has been a consistent part of the church’s yearly program ever since.
The great works, which are always sacred pieces, usually have either small orchestras, brass ensembles or string instruments to complement the singers. This December’s piece — “Carols and Lullabies” — will include harp, guitar and marimba. Manz selected these specific instruments because they enhance the southwestern sound of the music, important for capturing the essence of the piece.
Nicklaus, in particular, is looking forward to the production. She’s been a member of Plymouth’s choir since 1979, and she’s always tried to participate through the years. Since she retired in 2007, she has sung for both of Plymouth’s annual productions. And she’s looking forward to “Carols and Lullabies” because it’s not your standard program.
“It’s a challenging piece musically,” Nicklaus says. “I’ve done many, many standard pieces, and I liked those, but this one is different. It’s a lot of work, but it’s very rewarding.”
When Manz was working on picking the piece, he had at least two choir members approach him to suggest “Carols and Lullabies.” Plymouth started a Spanish church service in April, so members thought it would be appropriate to have the holiday production also be in Spanish.
The choir started practicing the work in September. Manz likes to get everyone started at least three months in advance so they’re fully prepared.
“We don’t see it as a performance, but more a gift to the community,” Manz says.