The Raleigh Flute Choir finished off its 25th anniversary year with a holiday concert at the North Carolina Museum of Art. The NCMA hosts many chamber music groups which help the museum promote not only visual art and this unique musical art form.
The Raleigh Flute Choir, founded in 1986, is an eight-member ensemble that features all ranges of flutes, from piccolo to the traditional flute, the larger alto and bass flutes, and even the eight-foot contrabass flute that stands up on the floor with a foot peg, much like an upright string bass. The choir has performed at Colonial Williamsburg, the Biltmore Estate, First Night Raleigh, and The White House Christmas celebrations in five different years.
These flutists are arguably some of the best in the state, and their concert was no disappointment. Many of the songs played were arrangements of popular tunes that the audience loved, including several medleys. An added treat at this performance was guest harpist Winifred Garrett, who has her own studio in Durham, NC, plays regularly with North Carolina Theatre, and has played with Stevie Wonder and at Whitney Houston's wedding. Several of the songs in the second half of the concert featured Garrett and her delicate interpretation of traditional carols, including Gabriel Faure's "Sicilienne", a standard part of flute literature, "A La Nanita Nana," a traditional Spanish lullaby, and an exciting interpretation of "The 12 Days of Christmas" that featured a piccolo flourish in place of the "four calling birds" and other fun additions.
Several other pieces were arranged in new ways so as not to bore audiences with the same songs they have heard on the radio all season, and many of these arrangements were done by flute players. Ann Pearce, one of the founding members of the choir – and the contrabass flute player – arranged three of the songs: "Still, Still, Still," "The 12 Days of Christmas," and "A La Nanita Nana." Thomas Mease, bass flute player for the choir, arranged a version of Mel Tormé's "The Christmas Song." Another notable flutist-turned-arranger is Ervin Monroe, principal flutist of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, who arranged "Christmas Images," an attractive blend of several traditional carols with interesting harmonies in a more impressionistic, free style, which helped tie in with the fusion of visual and performing arts.
This concert was beautiful and expertly performed, but it could have been trimmed a little bit; the audience was fidgeting noticeably throughout the second half of the concert. Perhaps some of the less Christmas-related tunes like "A La Nanita Nana" and "Sicilienne" could have been saved for a later concert, or the choir could have taken out the songs that were already heavily featured in a few of the medleys. The last three were obviously crowd favorites: "The Christmas Song," "Silver Bells," and "Santa's Symphony." Although "Santa's Symphony" was introduced as "a fluff piece" to end the concert, the audience loved it; perhaps this wasn't a good way to introduce something that was going to be so popular! It featured both classical and Christmas favorites in a cleverly arranged medley, from a mixture of Tchaikovsky's "Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy" paired with a minor version of "Jingle Bells" to a series of transitions from "God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen" to "Silent Night" to the "1812 Overture" – ironic enough because of the pairing of "Silent Night" with the raucous cannon-sounds at the end of the overture.
Although the concert ran a little long for a Sunday afternoon, it was truly well-executed and showed off the best of Raleigh. The Raleigh Flute Choir's next appearance will be in the spring - check our calendar a bit later in the season. More information about playing flute in Raleigh can be found at the Raleigh Area Flute Association's website. RAFA was founded by several members of the Raleigh Flute Choir and has amateur, semi-professional, and professional choirs, as well as events like the Flute Fair every fall, masterclasses, and workshops year-round.