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Monadnock Chorus taking to the outdoors for two performances

  • Monadnock Chorus will present a pair of outdoor concerts on Saturday, May 8 at Putnam Park in Peterborough and on the Hancock Town Common on Sunday, May 9. Photo by Peggy Brown—

  • Monadnock Chorus will present a pair of outdoor concerts on Saturday, May 8, at Putnam Park in Peterborough and on the Hancock Town Common on Sunday, May 9. PhotoS by Peggy Brown

  • Monadnock Chorus will present a pair of outdoor concerts on Saturday, May 8 at Putnam Park in Peterborough and on the Hancock Town Common on Sunday, May 9. Photo by Peggy Brown

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 5/6/2021 2:19:05 PM

Matthew Leese is cautiously optimistic that this weekend’s outdoor performances for Monadnock Chorus are going to be the start of a return to normal – even if it is only a small step. Because any amount of in-person singing is music to the artistic director’s ears.

Monadnock Chorus actually returned to small group rehearsals last fall, spaced out in the parking lot behind All Saints Church’s Reynolds Hall in Peterborough and subsequently put on a pair of brief concerts in Putnam Park in October and then caroled in downtown Peterborough in December.

But according to Leese, this weekend will be “slightly more substantial.”

On Saturday, Monadnock Chorus will return to Putnam Park for a free 30-minute concert at 2 p.m., where members will be spaced and masked, followed by an encore performance on Sunday at 2 p.m. on the Hancock Town Common. The goal for the audience: show up and stay away from others.

As they started to plan for the concerts, members made requests and suggestions as to what the musical arrangement might look like. 

“The disruptions of this past year and the absence of live music and performance were traumatic for artists and music lovers,” Leese said. “For our return to performing, we wanted to celebrate our community and the resilience of our area with a focus on music that has a strong connection to New Hampshire.”

Musical selections include two compositions by Edward MacDowell, co-founder of Peterborough’s famed artist colony, and a Shaker hymn from the Canterbury Shaker community.

That focus also includes a virtual collaboration with Apple Hill Center for Chamber Music of “Finlandia,” a composition by Jean Sibelius. A video recording of the Apple Hill String Quartet will accompany Monadnock Chorus’ performances.

“While we prefer in-person collaboration with the professional musicians who inspire us,” Leese said, “having a chance to sing with Apple Hill’s moving accompaniment is exciting after this long year.”

Increasing inclusivity is a continuing focus for the Chorus in music choices, Leese said.

“New Hampshire is home to a vibrant refugee community, with people from the Congo representing the largest single-country group. We’re singing a dynamic Congolese folk song with traditional rhythm instruments,” he said.

Monadnock Chorus’ 60-plus-year performance history includes most major choral works and this spring’s mini-concerts will honor that tradition with selections by J.S. Bach and G.F. Handel, as well as a modern choral composition, “I Dreamed of Rain,” released in 2009.

“This moving work is a song of peace that really touches the heart,” Leese said.

Leese said performing outdoors is “a totally different beast” for a chorus that thrives in an acoustic setting like the Peterborough Town House complete with a live orchestra. But if this is what it takes to make a return, Leese is willing to do just about anything.

“We are really excited to be able to sing again,” he said. “And it gives people a taste of what a normal concert would look like.”

But there are questions as to how it will all play out, as the music of Monadnock Chorus returns.

“Everything takes so much more planning to make it happen,” Leese said.

After their outdoor rehearsals last fall, the chorus began congregating in the Sharon Meeting House during the colder months, dividing into smaller rehearsal cohorts that enabled physical distancing in a well-ventilated space with frequent breaks. A few rehearsals were canceled as COVID-19 cases rose, but they resumed in early March in preparation for the pair of concerts.

“Every week someone at rehearsal has commented about how incredibly fortunate we have been to keep going,” Leese said. “For some, it’s the only place they saw their friends.”

Monadnock Chorus will also perform in downtown Keene on Saturday, June 5 as part of the Keene Art Walk celebration and a joyous return to orchestral-accompanied performance (outdoors) is planned for August at Aldworth Manor in Harrisville. Monadnock Chorus will present Dan Forrest’s “Requiem for the Living” on Aug. 18 with more than 60 singers and an eight-piece professional orchestra.

“In addition to beautiful music, we’re viewing this August concert as an opportunity to commemorate the losses and challenges of the year past and celebrate the resilience of our community,” Leese said. “We will be inviting community members to submit memorials and reflections about our collective pandemic experience that will be printed in our concert program. We see this as a chance to come together under the healing power of music.”

More information about the August concert, including ticket details and how to submit commemorations will be announced later in May.

For more information and concert details, visit monadnock-chorus.org/.

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