By Nicole O’Connell
It was freezing outside, but the Center Meetinghouse was cozy and warm. The 1832 building was filled with people on the benches and packed on the stage; around thirty performers stared directly at the conductor. Since we arrived, holiday song had followed holiday song and now there was silence as we began our next tune of the night. Doh…doh do do doh do do doh doh.
“Uptown Funk” was perhaps not what the audience was expecting.
This scene occurred last year at Old Sturbridge Village, the 1830s historical “living” museum, located in Sturbridge, Mass. The singing group was Worcester State’s very own semi-professional a cappella group, the Chorale. The Chorale has been performing at the “Christmas by Candlelight” events at Old Sturbridge Village for over ten years. The Chorale’s director, Dr. Christie Nigro, said that Old Sturbridge Village originally reached out to her, requesting musical groups for the holiday season.
Although the Chorale performs a wide variety of music, pulled from different times, places, religions, and languages, the modern pop songs seem most anachronistic amidst the old-fashioned environment. This is not to say, though, that the pop songs do not belong in the nineteenth-century village. When I sang “Uptown Funk,” it felt very odd, but not in a negative way. It was certainly not an everyday experience; this clash of place and time produced a very striking and special memory, not only for me, but for my fellow Chorale members as well.
“I haven’t ever felt that it takes away from the magic of that night,” said Alex Gardner, the secretary of Chorale and senior at WSU. “We do so much wonderful Christmas and Holiday music in our concert that sometimes at that point in December, audiences want a short break from it. I think it only makes the audience that much more excited about the concert, because they aren’t expecting it.”
The audience’s reaction is very significant to a performance, and by mixing up the audience’s expectations, the Chorale is sure to leave a lasting memory.
“It takes some time getting comfortable with performing modern day pop songs at odd venues,” said Sara Cohen, the president of Chorale and a junior at WSU. “However, I’ve found that the audiences usually help the performers warm up to performing. It’s good to remember in these situations that the audience is not from that time period, they are current, modern-day people, who are aware of modern pop songs, and actually enjoy listening to music they know the words to.”
Though these anachronisms may make Chorale members feel slightly out of place, they treasure the unique experience of singing at Old Sturbridge Village.
“I work in retail, so sometimes it’s hard not to get caught up with all the commercial insanity of the holiday season,” said Gardner. “But Old Sturbridge Village is this place that feels lost in time, and when you’re there for their Christmas by Candlelight, all the extra hustle and bustle falls away and it just brings back the excitement and joy of that time of year.”
The Chorale will perform again at Old Sturbridge Village this year on Sunday, December 10. The repertoire will include “Mary, Did You Know?”, “Shalom!”, and “Gabriel’s Message.” But also included will be Toto’s “Africa,” which will hopefully provide the audience with yet another unexpected, but striking memory.