By ROB W. ANDERSON
Though many people usher in the holidays with shopping sprees and elaborate decorations, others keep the “reason for the season” at the forefront – and that means celebrating in a religious setting.
Several area church congregations are rehearsing to present pageants, cantatas, concerts and dinners to their members and the community at-large. Some are traditional, and others are new to the seasonal lineup.
The First United Methodist Church will be hosting a bell-choir special Sunday, Dec. 9 at 10:40 a.m. The following Sunday – Dec. 16, at 10:40 a.m. – FUMC will present a chamber choir special. Across town, the First Presbyterian Church is preparing for its Christmas dinner and party on Wednesday, Dec. 19 at 5 p.m.
The bell choir at First Methodist, 300 W. Delaware, owns the largest set of hand bells in Tahlequah, and will feature them in the holiday performance under the theme “Bells and Holly.” Bell choir director Linda Cheatham said the 12-member bell ensemble begins preparing for the annual event in September.
“We start working on Christmas music at the beginning of fall. We work it in with the other music we are going to play,” Cheatham said. “We were going to perform at the library, but they decided not to do that this year. We will play as part of the church service on Dec. 9.”
When selecting the music for the Christmas special, Cheatham chooses “one that is rather difficult, and then a couple that are not so demanding, to accommodate the ability levels of members of the choir.
“We have professors from NSU who are music professors, and then we have some people who are not music readers,” Cheatham said. “They might have to take their music and circle the notes, and some people write right-hand, left-hand, rather than reading the music. Each person is assigned, basically, two notes and the sharps and flats that go with that, depending on the key changes. We even have some people who use colored pencils and will color-code their music.”
Cheatham has been working with hand bells since she was 10 years old and directing for 25 years, 18 of which have been at First United Methodist Church. She said there are many people who love and want to be involved with music, but they can’t sing. Ringing hand bells can be their form of musical expression.
“We also do special techniques with the bells. We do more than just ring the bells. We do special techniques, and we incorporate other instruments like the tambourine or triangle,” she said. “You can make very unusual sounds with the bells. You can hit them with a mallet and make a pizzicato-type sound. You can strike the bell on a padded table to make a thunking sound. That’s called a martellato sound. Each different technique changes the movement of the sound waves. The clapper [in the bell] only moves from front to back. It does not move sideways, and you can adjust the clapper for different volume. We usually leave them on soft because it kind of hurts your ears if it’s too loud.”
The chamber choir special will be Handel’s “The Messiah,” to be presented during the Dec. 16 service, said First United Methodist Church Chamber Choir Director Don Studebaker.
“It’s probably one of the most well-known Christmas oratorios in history, and we’ve got the chamber orchestra coming,” he said. “We have so many great musicians in this church. We have a lot of music faculty who are involved in the bell choir and the chamber choir. So it’s pretty potent group of musicians. We can do hard pieces really well.”
The First Presbyterian Church will be hosting its Christmas dinner and party Wednesday, Dec. 19 at 5 p.m. Santa will be on hand, said pastor Jan Condren.
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