“An I Cantori Christmas,” set for Dec. 9 and 10, will feature songs both old and new.
“We tend to do stuff that’s a little off the beaten track,” says founder and director Robert Harris. “It’s what keeps the group together.
“Although I Cantori has a reputation for doing unfamiliar music, even for the holiday season, this year we decided to add some more familiar traditional carols to the program.”
A chamber choir, I Cantori is kicking off its 26th season with the Christmas concert, which will be presented twice, on Dec. 9 at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church on Skidaway Island and Dec. 10 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church on Bull Street.
The early music on the program dates back to the Renaissance, but there also are contemporary pieces, including some based on old Christmas songs.
The concert will feature carol arrangements by Robert Shaw, former conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, and Alice Parker, his chief collaborator and arranger for more than 50 years.
In fact, the highlight of the concert will be the performance of a set of seven carol arrangements, created by Shaw and Parker for the Robert Shaw Chorale. Before becoming an orchestra conductor, Shaw was one of the great choral conductors of the 20th century.
“Both of them made a tremendous impact on the world of choral music in America,” Harris says. “Their commitment to excellence and artistry remains an inspiration to choral musicians worldwide.
“No matter how familiar the original, Parker brought a fresh creativity to each arrangement,” Harris says. “They were never trite or overdone. She always seemed to find the perfect balance.”
Among the carols in the program are “The Holly and the Ivy,” “Bring a Torch, Jeanette Isabella,” “What Child is This?” and “O Come All Ye Faithful.”
“Robert Shaw in the choral world is kind of a legend,” Harris says. “Georgia knows him as the former conductor of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, but he came from the choral world first. He was one of the top choral conductors in the world.
“When he started out in New York, he had a professional choir that went by his name, the Robert Shaw Chorale. He teamed up with Alice Parker, a Julliard graduate.
“They did recordings together, they collaborated on dozens of arrangements of folk songs, Christmas carols, you name it,” Harris says. “They originally were recorded by a professional choir, then they were released for the rest of us to use.”
Preparing for the concert has brought back memories for Harris.
“One of the first choral records I ever heard was on a 78 rpm record,” Harris says. “It was reissued on a 33 and 1/3 and then on CDs. For me, in a way, it’s a return to childhood, a half-century of memories encompassed in these pieces.
“Most of the songs we’re singing are from Shaw/Parker. They’re from an album made in the late ’40s or very early ’50s.
“There’s an Armstrong Junior College graduate, Ernest Murphy, who is in his 80s, who was working with Shaw back in those days,” Harris says. “He drives up from Daytona and is coming in February to do a master class with us. He’s a miracle.”
Almost all choral directors are familiar with Shaw and Parker’s work.
“Most of us who have been doing choral work for a while have done a couple of the Shaw/Parker songs and most of them are familiar,” Harris says. “We tend to stretch our audiences’ ears sometimes with some off-the-beaten-track songs, but these are familiar to just about everybody.”
Shaw died in 1999, but Parker is still active.
“She’s in her 90s and still composing,” Harris says. “She’s still traveling and doing clinics.
“She’s the most sweet, kind, gracious person you’d ever meet in your life. Alice Parker is just kindness personified.
“She always finds a way to write for the voice,” he says. “The parts are just a joy to sing.”
Parker shows no signs of slowing down.
“She has been active at her chosen art and profession for 70 years,” Harris says. “Our national choral organization commissioned a piece from her last year.
“It’s not like she’s tapering off,” he says. “She wrote a book that came out a year and a half ago and does clinics based on that book.”
IF YOU GO
What: An I Cantori Christmas
When and Where: 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9 at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church, 3 W. Ridge Road, Skidaway Island; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10 at Sacred Heart Catholic Church, 1707 Bull St.
Cost: $15 for adults and $10 for students