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Tucson, AZ, October, 2023 — This holiday season, the Arizona Repertory Singers (ARS) present What Sweeter Music: 40 Years with ARS, a journey through four decades of contemporary compositions and familiar classics, ARS highlights and audience favorites.
In preparation for their anniversary year, a committee of singers and board members culled the brightest and best (as one selection is indeed entitled) from the choral group’s vast library. From that still-extensive list, ARS music director Ryan Phillips curated a holiday program of 18 selections that captures the cheer and reflection of the season as well as the exhilaration of human voices raised together in song. “We’ve chosen music that most describes ARS,” explains Phillips, “music that is most important to the ensemble.”
The program derives its name from a carol by renowned English composer and conductor John Rutter; “What Sweeter Music” is an invitation to enjoy its luscious harmonies as a delightful and heart-warming gift. Also on the set list is Rutter’s delicate and flowing “Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind,” its title and text drawn from Shakespeare’s As You Like It. Both songs are accompanied by piano.
Another highlight is the serene “O Magnum Mysterium (O Great Mystery)” by prominent and prolific composer Morten Lauridsen; he describes his ode to the humble animals of the nativity as “a quiet song of profound inner joy.” Other contemplative pieces include an expansive hymn, alternating between crescendo and quiet, “Spaséñiye, sodélal (Salvation is created)” by Russian composer Pavel Chesnokov and a soothing lullaby with soaring soprano lines, “There Is Faint Music,” composed by Dan Forrest with lyrics by Nancy Buckley.
The program’s more rousing fare ranges from contemporary to classical: “Brightest and Best,” a stirring hymn invoking light in the darkness, arranged by composer, singer, and conductor Shawn Kirchner with text by Reginald Heber; an energetic Catalonian carol, “Fum, Fum, Fum”; and the rambunctious “Masters in This Hall,” both arranged by Alice Parker and Robert Shaw. Moving through music history, there is the 16th-century “Coventry Carol,” originally performed as part of the medieval Mystery Plays and arranged by Martin Shaw; the bright, brisk “Hodie Christus natus est (Today Christ Is Born)” by 16th/17th-century Dutch composer and organist J.P. Sweelinck; and from the Romantic era, “Weihnachten,” a call to rejoice by Felix Mendelssohn.
This spirit of joyfulness extends to the traditional carol, “In dulci jubilo (In Sweet Rejoicing),” a rhythmic and macaronic (using two languages, in this case, English and Latin) piece, arranged by Minneapolis-based composer, conductor, and educator Matthew Culleton. Other carols in the program are the layered and lush “My Lord Has Come” by English composer and pianist Will Todd and Steven Landau’s “Hark! In 7/8,” an exciting and percussive arrangement of the timeless “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
Traveling across cultures in song, ARS also performs “Abreme la Puerta,” a Puerto Rican welcome to carolers, arranged by Dr. Cristian Grases, sung in Spanish, and accompanied by guitar as well as “Love Came Down at Christmas” by Black American conductor and music professor Dr. Robert A. Harris with text from an 1885 Cristina Rossetti poem. Finally, the program includes two Hebrew pieces: the beseeching “Erev Shel Shoshanim (Evening of Roses),” a popular love song, composed by Yosef Hader with words by Moshe Dor and a popular up-tempo Chanukah song, “S’vivon B’sheva,” arranged by Robert Lopez-Hanshaw, music director at Temple Emanu-el in Tucson and former ARS singer.
This season’s holiday concerts, like those of the past 40 years, both honor and reinforce community, drawing everyone together through the power of music. “Our singers simply love to sing,” says Phillips, “and share their love of singing with Tucson and the surrounding communities.”
Join ARS for these landmark holiday concerts and mark your calendars now for the ARS spring gala and concert on April 28, 2024, the culmination of their yearlong anniversary celebration and an experience that promises to be inspired and inspiring. The gala will honor Dr. Julian Ackerley and Dr. Marcela Molina, directors of the Tucson Boys Chorus and Tucson Girls Chorus respectively, for their work in nurturing thousands of young singers and instilling a love of music in our community’s youth
Saturday, December 9
Desert Skies United Methodist Church, 3255 N. Houghton Road, Tucson
Sunday, December 10
Christ Church United Methodist, 666 N. Craycroft Road, Tucson
Sunday, December 17
St. Mark Catholic Church, 2727 W. Tangerine Road, Oro Valley
Tickets are available at arsingers.org. Prices are $18 in advance and $20 at the door. Students are admitted free with ID.
Celebrating their 40th season, the Arizona Repertory Singers is an auditioned ensemble of nearly 50 singers from greater Tucson. Since 1984 this choir has developed an extensive repertory and prides itself on presenting high quality performances of the standard repertoire and new music. Our community of singers, selected through a rigorous audition process, represent a variety of work life careers in business, education, engineering, information technology, law, medicine, social service, science, and the arts. For more details, see arsingers.org.