By Jerelyn Craden
The expression, they “sang their hearts out” is what the Highlands Festival Singers (HFS) will be doing at their much-anticipated Christmas concert, Hallelujah! We’re Back Live! on Dec. 4 and 6, at the United Church in Haliburton. Raring to go after a two-year hiatus from performing live due to COVID, the choir will not only be spreading the spirit of joy, they will also be celebrating their 31st anniversary.
With great enthusiasm, Highlands Festival Singers Director, Melissa Stephens said, “Hallelujah! We’re Back Live! is a really great concert that the choir is working really hard on … not your typical Christmas music. It’s a great way to start the season.”
“The first concert we ever did was Handel’s Messiah,” Stephens said. “That’s where the word, Hallelujah (in the title of the concert) comes from. I will be speaking a bit about the history of the choir, and there will also be a short three-minute video of pictures taken over the past three decades that were submitted by choir members.”
Today, the HFS has thirty singers, men and women. “It’s pretty well-balanced right now,” Stephens said. “There are five tenors and five or six bass and then the rest are sopranos and altos.”
“Our first two years we did our Christmas concert at the Haliburton Legion. We did some years at the high school. And some years we split it between Haliburton United, and Highland Hills United in Minden, which has very nice acoustics,” Stephens said. Throughout the years, Haliburton United has been the choir’s rehearsal space of choice.
“We’re doing two pieces from Handel’s Messiah,” Stephens said, Worthy is the Lamb and Hallelujah Chorus. We’re also doing a piece called, Sure on this Shining Night, which is stunning.” Winter Wonderland and other popular Christmas songs will be performed. “We’ll also be doing our crazy rendition of, Deck the Halls, with a funny time signature, and a piece called, Christmas Goes Classical, with all kinds of new lyrics put to classical tunes. Some are orchestral pieces, and some are from operas. It’s very different and I do not know of another group that’s done it in concert.”
A favourite choir pick
Stephens shared the choir’s excitement about performing the song, We Rise Again, recorded by the Rankin Family and written by Canadian composer Leo Dubinsky, from Sydney Nova Scotia. Filled with uplifting imagery, “It’s kind of like we’re rising from the pandemic,” Stephens said. “The melody is lovely, and the lyrics are inspiring and powerful.”
When the waves roll on over the waters
And the ocean cries
We look to our sons and daughters
To explain our lives
As if a child could tell us why
That as sure as the sunrise
As sure as the sea
As sure as the wind in the trees
We rise again in the faces
Of our children
Behind the scenes
HFS president, Beth Kipping mentioned the great Executive she works with including: “Victoria Bingham (past president), Marsha Sweet (secretary), Norma Goodger (treasurer), and three Members at Large, Patty Luubert, Joan Hawley, and Ken Loney.”
“We’ve been rehearsing with masks and will stop next week,” Kipping said. “Before the choir comes to our next rehearsal, each member will do an antigen test and send in the results. At the concert, we will perform without masks. And, for everyone’s safety, audience members will be required to wear a mask. For those who arrive without one, we will have masks on hand at the door.”
“Every year, we give a $500 music/art scholarship to the high school,” Stephens said. “The year of the first flood in Minden, we donated a percentage of proceeds from our concert to those whose homes were hit hard.”
The HFS is ready to give back again with an inspiring concert that will kick-start the holiday season with spirit and joy.
Concert details and ticket information
Hallelujah! We’re Back Live! will be performed on Dec. 4 at 3 p.m. and Dec. 6 at 7:30 p.m. at the United Church, Haliburton, 10 George Street.
Tickets are $15 and available at Master’s Book Store, Haliburton and Minden Pharmasave, Minden. They can also be purchased at: firstname.lastname@example.org by E-transfer: email@example.com, or at the door.