Now that we are deep into our annual migration away from the sun, instinct tells us that it is time to stay warm and well-fed, to be indoors more, and to cultivate our inner richness with activities that are closer to home. Where once it was not uncommon for people and groups of friends to sing together for entertainment, today that practice has fallen into decline. So we look elsewhere for that musical connection.
Fortunately, for people lucky enough to live in Montezuma Valley, there are opportunities to participate in the rich musical tradition of the season and to revel in the collaboration of community members. Upcoming musical events featuring two local, well-known choral groups promise to warm the cockles and soothe the soul. The Southwest Singers and the Mancos Valley Chorus are both preparing their seasonal programs and will be performing over the next two weeks.
Back in the early 1950's, Buford Wayt began a community chorus in Cortez called the Choralaires. By 1957 the baton had been passed to local living legend, Ralph Vavek, who continued the tradition until 2004. Ruth Wilson Francisco, a few years later, decided to invite the scattered chorus members back, along with any new willing community members, and formed her own group, the Southwest Singers.
Inspired by the vision and the musical direction of the Choralaires, Wilson's intention is to "keep lyrical singing alive in Cortez." She explains that in lyrical singing deep emotions are expressed by paying attention to musical elements such as dynamics, pitch, intonation, and harmony. Sharing these qualities with other singers in a choral setting helps to create an emotional and poetic expression of the words that results in bel canto, beautiful singing.
Classically trained as a vocalist, Wilson has sung professionally in New York City, Denver and Santa Fe. She has a deep desire to restore a love of participatory singing. Southwest Singers is her realization of that desire.
Kriss Larsen, director of the Mancos Valley Chorus, is also a classically trained vocalist but now calls herself a stylized popular performance artist. Also the director of Women's Prerogative, a 15-voice a cappella barbershop-style singing group in Durango, Larsen learned the art of showmanship when she was part of a musical revue performing in Cape Cod during the summers.
Drawing on her experience in showmanship, music, and theatrical performance, Larsen focuses on shaping a show that is big on audience appeal and promises a "fun, lively concert." Says Larsen, "We love our audiences because they come in wanting to be entertained and are so receptive to what we are performing. They enhance our enjoyment of performing."
Titled, "Countdown to Christmas," the Mancos Valley Chorus will be singing standards like We Three Kings, I Saw Three Ships, a medley from the classic movie White Christmas, a humorous look at the Twelve Days After Christmas, as well as many other familiar tunes. Soloists are sprinkled throughout the hourlong program and accompanied on piano by jazz performer, Lee Bartley. Additional instruments adding their unique voices to the performances include a flute, trumpet, and hand bells. They will be doing one show in Cortez at the First United Methodist Church and three shows in their home venue in Mancos at the Methodist Church on Grand Avenue.
Southwest Singers perform their shows at the First United Methodist Church in Cortez. "Christmas Classics" will include some favorite standards like Chestnuts Roasting, Wassail Song, as well as more religious pieces such as Jubilate Deo, Jesu Bambino, and Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella, all accompanied by Joy Steffen on the piano. Although it is a family-friendly show, free baby-sitting won't be available.
There is no charge for any of the shows for either chorus. However, donations to help offset costs are always happily received. Both Larsen and Wilson are also eager to welcome new choristers.
Although it may be a challenge to leave the warmth of home when the temperature drops, the effort will be rewarded with beautiful singing and enriched by friendly and festive community connections. Both choruses and their directors hope you will come out of hibernation and be part of the fun.