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Numerically speaking, it amounted to 16-30-100. The sixteen Oakwood Waits used thirty Christmas songs over a period of one hundred minutes to kindle a festive spirit in downtown Raleigh. All the gloom of a cold and rainy Sunday evening was dispelled in the spacious and stately sanctuary at Unity Church of the Triangle. Reaping material benefits from this concert was Hospice of Wake County.
Just who are The Oakwood Waits? To quote from the Waits' brochure: In 1984, a few friends, all residents of the historic Oakwood neighborhood in Raleigh, NC came together to sing carols for their neighbors during the Christmas season. In subsequent years, as more carolers joined, the group took the name "The Oakwood Waits," taking "Waits" from an early English name for street musicians, especially singers. By 1987, The Oakwood Waits had constructed authentic Victorian costumes for themselves from period patterns, becoming "Raleigh's original Dickens-era-clad carolers."
One distinct fact about the presentation helped to ensure its success and acclaim. No fewer than six of the numbers were arrangements by the team of Alice Parker and Robert Shaw. From these authorities on the early American spirit came the appealing "How Far Is It to Bethlehem?" and the subdued and exquisite "Christ Child's Lullaby." The former was the first piece in the program to feature the directing of their new Chorus Master, Michael J. Glasgow, with consequent precision and discipline. Glasgow directed about half of the offerings, evidently those pieces that the group felt would lend themselves most effectively to the formality of a "concert version." It was fascinating and instructive to observe the comparisons and contrasts between these and the more traditional Waits' style of the medieval minstrels. In all cases the sizable audience was well served and most audibly appreciative.
A definite highlight of the evening was the men's rendition of Franz Biebl's sublime "Ave Maria" from 1964 (one of the few departures from days of old). The Chorus Master directed the seven men, sounding like a larger group, in a near-flawless performance. Not to be upstaged, the women later came on with a joyous "Christmas Is Coming," by Hollis Brown. Present in the audience, the composer took her well-deserved bows for a masterly number somewhat reminiscent of Britten's Ceremony of Carols.
The singers "Saw Three Ships" and declared that "Mary Had a Baby." They dreamed of a "White Christmas" and, given a "Winter Wonderland," decided just to "Let It Snow!" Fundamental standards included "Of the Father's Love Begotten" and "In the Bleak Midwinter." The evening's morsels were varied and plentiful enough that nobody could possibly have left the premises unfulfilled.