The Southwest Singers, a choir with a long history in Montezuma County, is drawing upon an even longer history for its upcoming Christmas concert.
Ruth Wilson Francisco helped to found the choir about 10 years ago as the Southwest Singers and Players. They started out by using music from an older choir that had performed in the Cortez area for about 50 years before its members started retiring. But for this year’s Christmas concert on Dec. 2 and 3, they will be performing music that is all new to them, though some of it is very old.
“There is so much wonderful literature that has been written over the centuries to honor Christmas,” Francisco said. “We unashamedly sing Christmas music.”
The choir will be singing several pieces from the Oxford Book of Carols, including one, Corde Natus, that dates back to the fourth century. Other pieces will include “Madrigal of the Bells,” “On a Cold December Night” and “Hark the Glad Sound,” as well as some other medieval and Renaissance-era songs.
But just as they have in all their Christmas concerts, the Southwest Singers will begin with the traditional Latin song “Dona Nobis Pacem,” or “Grant Us Peace,” which Francisco said is particularly “appropriate for today’s world.” She said the concert would end with a special surprise, though she wouldn’t give a hint as to what it might be.
The Southwest Singers started out performing pieces from Gilbert and Sullivan operas, but now their repertoire has expanded to include music from a wide variety of styles, including classical, Broadway, country-western and big band.
Their Christmas concerts, which are always held at the First United Methodist Church in Cortez, typically draw crowds of 50 to 70 people.
The choir, which is composed of all ages and skill levels, ranges from about 10 to 25 members at any given time. It typically performs at least two major concerts per year, in the spring and fall seasons, adding occasional smaller gigs upon request. It has held auditions in the past – the search for more bass-baritones is ongoing – but right now, Francisco said they are accepting anyone from the community who is willing to commit to weekly rehearsals.
“I’m not as concerned about having a trained choir, as having a community choir,” she said. “Anybody’s welcome – they just have to be willing to work.”
She said not everyone in the choir is a trained singer, but they can all sing in tune, and they “blend beautifully.”
A former solo performer herself, with a master’s degree in vocal performance, Francisco believes anyone can learn to sing with enough practice.
Tom McIntosh, one of the newer members of the choir, is also one of many with no vocal training, just a love for music. He said singing outside his comfort zone, as the Southwest Singers often do, has helped him to improve his range and control. The Christmas concert, with its older, more traditional music, presents a special challenge.
“It’s not ‘Santa Claus Is Coming to Town,’” McIntosh said. “At first it sounds almost boring, but then you listen to it, and it’s really beautiful. There are a lot of intricate, very challenging melodies.”
Several of the Southwest Singers will also be participating in the Messiah Sing--n on Dec. 4, which will have a much bigger choir. But Francisco said the smaller chamber choir allows for a different, more elaborate type of performance.
The Southwest Singers Christmas concert is free and open to the public, but the choir is accepting donations to be used for new music and other resources.