Parkland Press

Wednesday, November 13, 2019
Dashon Burton Dashon Burton
Ysaye Barnwell Ysaye Barnwell
Sherezade Panthaki Sherezade Panthaki

Bach Choir, soloists bring ‘Joyful’ to Festival Unbound

Thursday, October 3, 2019 by KATHY LAUER-WILLIAMS Special to The Press in Focus

It’s a true Lehigh Valley community of music.

Angel-voiced Bel Canto youth singers join with the playful and raucous Jakopa’s Punch band; hip-hop-inspired body percussion punctuates a group of elite high school chorale singers, and a New Orleans-style brass band adds a swinging vibe to the spiritual sounds of a Baptist church choir.

For the exuberant “A Joyful Noise,” The Bach Choir of Bethlehem and Touchstone Theatre have partnered for a concert, 4 p.m. Oct. 6, Zoellner Arts Center, Bethlehem, that is a joyous celebration of all kinds of music as part of Touchstone’s Festival Unbound.

The Bach Choir, conducted by Greg Funfgeld, joins with six community groups and numerous soloists on a program that explores how the collective act of music-making can bring people together and make the world a smaller place.

“The idea of ‘Joyful Noise’ is that we are making this music together,” says Jp Jordan, Touchstone artistic director and a member of Jakopa’s Punch. “I hope the event feels as the mission is intended, a joyous celebration of music where we can witness these weird amalgamations.”

Joining Bach Choir are Bel Canto Youth Chorus, Greater Shiloh Church Choir, Nazareth High School Cantus, the touring choir of Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, Big Easy Brass, and Jakopa’s Punch.

Soloists include Sherezade Panthaki, soprano; Dashon Burton, baritone; Susan Charlton, flute; Nobuo Kitagawa, oboe; Loretta O’Sullivan, cello; Thomas Goeman, piano; Christopher Hanning, percussion; Camille Armstrong, body percussion, and Ysaye Barnwell, formerly of Sweet Honey in the Rock.

Each group has partnered with a cross-genre artist and will perform selections of their choosing for the concert. Everyone will join on stage for the finale, a massed choir conducted by Funfgeld to perform Paul Halley’s “Freedom Trilogy” and “The Rain is Over and Gone” based on text from “Song of Solomon,” and featuring Burton as soloist.

“There will be more than 200 singers, brilliant soloists and virtuosic instrumentalists,” Funfgeld says. “This is an experience of community that will touch our hearts and minds, enriching our lives.

“Singing from the depths of our souls, listening intently to one another, sharing amazing music and profound words, and being together in these ninety minutes helps us become an incredible family,” says Funfgeld.

The Bach Choir begins the event performing “A Dream of Time,” a setting by Stephen Paulus of Carl Sandburg’s poem, “Hope is a tattered Flag.”

“A Dream of Time” was commissioned in 2009 for Funfgeld’s 25th anniversary as Bach Choir artistic director and conductor. The choir will be joined by the touring choir of the Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, directed by David Macbeth.

That will be followed by the Bach Choir performing Bach’s “Mein Freunde ist mein,” a Duet from Cantata 140,” featuring Panthaki, Burton and Kitagawa.

Nazareth High School Cantus, directed by Kelly Rocchi, will perform an arrangement of “I Love You” and “What a Wonderful World” by Craig Hella Johnson and Anders Edenroth’s “Words,” accompanied by Armstrong’s body percussion.

The Greater Shiloh Church Choir, directed by Veronica Cummings, and Big Easy Brass of Easton join forced on Pharrell Williams’ “Happy.” Barnwell will lead the audience in a community sing.

The Bel Canto Youth Chorus of the Bach Choir of Bethlehem, directed by Joy Hirokawa, will sing Hirokawa’s arrangement of “Peace Like a River” and join Jakopa’s Punch for the Touchstone house band’s theme song, written by Jordan.

Lehigh Charter High School for the Arts touring choir will perform Daniel Elder’s “Ballade to the Moon from Three Nocturnes” and Greg Japerse’s “Voice Dance,” featuring senior Aaron Finkle juggling.

In between performances, Jordan, Funfgeld, Burton and Panthaki will provide spoken word and quotes on the community and songs that organizers says will tie all the music together.

“’A Joyful Noise’ is going to be a fantastic event,” says Bridget George, executive director of the Bach Choir.

The concert is one of more than 20 free and ticketed events Oct. 4-13 that are part of Touchstone Theatre’s 10-day Festival Unbound.

“Joyful Noise,” 4 p.m. Oct. 6, Baker Hall, Zoellner Arts Center, 420 E. Packer Avenue, Lehigh University, Bethlehem. There are expected to be a limited number of pay-what-you-will tickets available. festivalunbound.com.