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by Robert Knox – Independent Correspondent 11/27/2023

It’s been 10 years since the Pilgrim Festival Chorus has performed a holiday seasonal classic composed by one of the last century’s recognized musical giants, Benjamin Britten. The piece is “Ceremony of Carols,” and it will be joined by similarly well-loved works by John Rutter and Conrad Susa in a Christmas season program to be performed this coming weekend. Titled “Christmas Joy: Works of Britten, Rutter, and Susa,” the concert will be performed by the Plymouth-based community chorus on Friday and Saturday evening, Dec. 1 and 2, at 7:30 p.m., and on Sunday, Dec. 3, 4 p.m. Performances will take place at St. Bonaventure Parish, 803 State Road, in Manomet.

“The program is really wonderful,” said William Richter, who shares the role of artistic director with accompanist Elizabeth Chapman Reilly. “Not only because it crosses different styles. It also uses various languages – old English, Spanish and Latin.”

Britten, whose works are generally regarded as examples of the modernist school of classical music, composed “Ceremony of Carols,” a composition with a common touch, in the war year of 1942 on board a ship crossing the Atlantic from England to the United States.

The choral piece is composed in variety of styles, Richter said. While some of the songs are inspired by traditional hymns, some with roots going back to the Middle Ages, at other points “you could think it’s rock ‘n roll,” Richter said, “very, very rhythmic.” An example is the chanted Latin phrase “Deo Gracias,” the Latin origin of the still common liturgical refrain “Thanks be to God.”

Other “Ceremony” songs have ordinary English lyrics, such as “This Little Babe,” based on a 16th century poem. It includes rhymes like “This little babe so few days old/ Is come to rifle Satan’s fold.”

According to the chorus’s concert program, contemporary English composer John Rutter is regarded as “a reinventor of the Christmas carol.” His songs are widely performed around the world. The chorus will sing “Dancing Day,” Rutter’s collection of English carols arranged for women’s voices.

Shorter works by Rutter such as such as “The Lord bless you and keep you,” “For the beauty of the earth,” “Look at the world,” and his setting of the traditional favorite “All things bright and beautiful” have become standards. In addition to composing his own songs, Rutter has arranged many traditional Christmas carols.

His composition “Dancing Day” includes the stirring Latin chant “Personent Hodie,” and the more familiar carols “There Is No Rose” and “Coventry Carol.” The work concludes with the infectiously popular and widely performed “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.”

The chorus will also perform “Carols and Lullabies: Christmas in the Southwest,” written in 1992 by American composer Conrad Susa, born in 1935. The work consists of 10 of the mostly highly regarded carols of the Spanish-speaking world, artfully arranged to be performed as a suite.

Fortunately, Richter said, for a chorus such as the Pilgrim Festival Chorus, which includes both women and men, Susa wrote separate arrangements for men’s and women’s voices. The version the chorus will perform is scored for both.

The titles and the full lyrics for Susa’s composition are included in the concert’s highly useful program, available to the audience. The lyrics are given in both Spanish and English. Lyrics for the program’s two other works also appear in the program.

Richter also pointed to the instrumental richness of this year’s holiday concert. In the “Christmas Joy” program, he said “the chorus mingles its voices with harp, marimba, and guitar in Conrad Susa’s wonderful collection of Spanish carols.”

Tickets for the “Christmas Joy” concert are $25 for adults, $20 for senior citizens, and $15 for students over 14. Children ages 14 and under are admitted free. Tickets are available at, from chorus members, and at the door.

Founded in 1999 and now consisting of close to 90 adult singers from 18 regional communities, the Pilgrim Festival Chorus will also present its annual “Messiah Sing” held on Friday, Dec. 15, at 7 p.m., in Middleborough’s First Congregational at the Green.

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