In her introductory remarks, Roberta Whittington, president of Chapel Hill based Hinshaw Music Company, reminded the audience that this workshop series began in 1975 with the renowned Natalie Sleeth as the featured composer. So this present edition marked the 40th anniversary of publisher Hinshaw's choral workshop for musicians everywhere. As has become customary, Edenton Street United Methodist Church hosted this Celebration Concert by Greensboro's Bel Canto Company with conductor Welborn Young.
Before the evening's featured composers were introduced, it was time for some general purpose selections from the Hinshaw catalog. Opening in martial-like manner on the organ was Bel Canto accompanist Adam Ward with the animated "Trumpet Tune" by contemporary composer Ryan Hebert. Young then brought on the Bel Canto singers for five selections, including the choral standard, "For the Beauty of the Earth" by John Rutter. Featured in two of the numbers were fine soloists from Bel Canto, tenor Woody Faulkner and baritone Jason Barrios.
The group's own tenor Bill Snedden furnished "Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day," a bright and sprightly setting of the traditional English text, to appropriate audience acclaim.
The first featured composer Tom Shelton was represented by three pieces of enormous charm. The Capital City Girls Choir and Durham School of the Arts Choir (constituting a razor-sharp group some 17 strong) joined the Bel Canto women for "My Mother's Love," a piece with compelling appeal. The "mothers" and the "children" mutually communicate in moving manner. "A child's heart, A mother's love, / A special bond designed by God above." A favorite of children and adults alike was "Animal Imagination" with lyrics by a fifth-grader named Lucy Jones. "Could I be a Kiwi and hop on the ground…." The "Pié Jesu" was a gorgeous setting of the traditional translated Latin text, with Ward's piano accompaniment powerfully complemented by flutist Janet Phillips. All three of these works were conducted by the composer.
The other featured composer, Mark Hayes, came on after the intermission to conduct Bel Canto in seven of his works. Of these, arguably the finest was the highly melodious "To Love Our God." Here the text, adapted from the book of Ecclesiastes, ruminates philosophically on this life's vanity and arcane earthly matters. "Where does the wind come from? Where does it go? … All is empty, all is vain." The text and the music reach a zenith when the philosopher concludes that "To love our God [is] the reason we live…."
Hayes has created arrangements of the spirituals "Go Down Moses" and "He's Got the Whole World in His Hands." The former is a particularly popular offering featuring finger snapping percussion by the singers and a rather intricately detailed version of the story. Bel Canto alto Sarah Teutling was the appropriately throaty soloist. A setting of Psalm 95, "Sing a Jubilant Song," brought back Janet Phillips for vital flute support.
This 40th edition of "A Celebration Concert" has maintained the excellent choral traditions of its storied predecessors.