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'Christmas in New England'

Members of the New England Community Choir rehearse in preparation for the upcoming Christmas in New England III performance

By Linda Sailer

The Fine Arts Culture and Events (FACE) of New England is kicking off the holiday season with a performance of Christmas in New England III.

The musical will be filled with religious, inspirational and secular Christmas music performed by a 55-member community choir and directed by Gina Joyce.

“It’s a really fun, energetic group,” she said. “It’s a group of all ages. We’ve got junior high students clear up to the oldest well into their 80s.”

There also will be a women’s choir, a jazz choir, a men’s group, solo opportunities and a children’s choir.

“There’s a huge variety of music, from classics people will recognize to newer pieces written in the 21st century,” she said.

The performances are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Nov. 22-23, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 24, in the St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

“We decided we wanted to be ahead of the Christmas rush,” said long-time choir member Lewellyn Rustan, who sang with the community choir when it organized for the New England Centennial in 1986 and was spearheaded by the late Margaret Bohnhoff.

“A lot of faces have changed since 1986,” Rustan said. “We’ve had great directors and have benefited from each of them.”

Rustan wrote the script for “Christmas in New England III.” It’s divided into the glorious sounds of Christmas, the magic of Christmas, a men’s section and the Christmas finale.

The decision to go forward with a  concert was made earlier in the year when committee members were sitting around Julie Opdahl’s kitchen table. They decided it was time for a third “Christmas in New England” performance.

“The whole process has been lots of fun,” Opdahl said. “We have 17 new people who have never sung with us before.”

Volunteers from throughout the  New England area have stepped forward to help. Rehearsals have been underway since August.

In addition to the vocals, Burn the Floor Diversity in Dance will give a dance performance. Volunteers from the community also will present a Living Nativity.

 “We have three Living Nativities, with three different babies,” Opdahl said. “It’s the same with the lunch. All the church women in town are making thousands of cookies for lunch afterwards.”

Nancy Belland, who helps direct the rehearsals, said the New England area has a wealth of talented people.

“It goes from the artists who are writing their own music, to the men’s a cappella group, from technology to choreography,” she said. “We put together one heck of a show for a little community.”

She credited New England’s school music teacher Conway Heupel for teaching the children’s choir.

“They sound angelic,” she said. “I had to stop and look at them — where did you guys come from? They are wonderful!”

Belland appreciates the variety of music, from the classics to swing by a women’s group.

“We’re singing ‘Winter Wonderland’ — it’s a traditional piece, but with a little bit of jazz to it,” she said.

To set the tone for the performance, the church will be decorated with wreaths, garland and candles. The Lions also are sponsoring a Christmas lighting contest throughout town.

“We want to send everyone off with Christmas joy in their hearts — that is our goal,” she said.