One advantage of being a long-time member of the Sarasota Music Club is that it allows for a long view of the club and its activities. The membership of the SMC is about the same in number, from year to year, as new members come in, replacing those who have gone on to sing in the Heavenly Choir. Due to a healthy bequest quite a while ago coupled with their annual dues, the SMC has been able to provide concerts every third Friday in ‘the season’ for our members and any others who wish to come, and to give many scholarships to help young musicians continue their education at colleges and music schools across the country. These activities are exactly what the Music Club founders intended.
For many years, the Friday concert in December has been provided by the Sunnyside Singers, a choir mostly made up of residents in Sunnyside Village, our gracious hosts. I believe the choir was started by Dorothy Whaley and ably conducted by her for many years. A couple of years ago, her health led her to retire. At that time Suzanne Stearns became the director. Last year was the first that I began writing this blog, and I commented about the energy in the singers and their close attention to Stearns’ conducting. This is the second year of her leadership...how will it have changed, I wondered? A very accomplished accordionist was featured last year, not the usual item on a Christmas concert.
This year, the program started off with a very energetic Don Fawthrop, dancing down the aisle as he played ‘Silent Night’ and ‘Go Tell It on The Mountain’ on his harmonica! (What will it be next year – bagpipes playing the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus? Mark your calendar for December 20, 2019, and find out.)
After that opening, there followed a number of favorite seasonal songs, ancient and modern. Again, the choralers’ eyes were glued to Stearns...but what was new and very welcome this year was a vast improvement in the sound produced by these 33 singers. Looking at them, I saw many mouths open in the stereotypical vertical ovals depicted on Christmas cards....on cards, yes, but not often in amateur choirs. This Sunnyside group could be a model for painters of next years’ cards. And the sound! Nice, full adult voices, well-balanced between women and men. Looks and sounds like these folks have been taking voice lessons! Congratulations to all! And a tip of my hat to Suzanne Stearns, for her inspirational leadership.
Stearns’ husband, Jason Stearns, was featured as soloist on ‘O Holy Night’, and again on ‘Gesu Bambino.’ (More on this glorious voice next month, when he returns to do the January SMC program. That’s January 18. Be there!) Also featured as soloist was a talent new to our area, Nadine Thomas, who played a Mark Hayes piano ‘Christmas Medley,’ with great skill and sensitivity. Hayes would be proud. She also accompanied Jason Stearns on his songs, giving the Singers’ regular accompanist, the very capable Barbara Roth-Donaldson, a chance to rest.
Giving a festive appearance, the gentlemen all sported red bow ties, and the ladies wore sequined boas in a variety of holiday colors. The program took place in the Sunnyside Chapel, a lovely building with lively acoustics, a joy for the performer and the listener. My Christmas wish is that all of the SMC concerts could be in there. (Are you listening, Santa? What – I’m supposed to sit on your lap, Santa? C’mon, man, at over 80, I’m a little past that.... and I have been a good boy. Mostly.)