128 W Howard St. Bellefonte, PA 16823
Trinity United Methodist Church
By Serge Bielanko
Another grand Victorian Christmas is about to kick off in a few days and look- if you're anything like me- the array of activities that are available is almost dizzying. Truth is, I'm reminded of one of those unbelievable old-school New Jersey diner menus: 45 laminated pages of everything from 75 different omelettes on Page 3 to 18 kinds of Greek desserts on Page 43. So the thing is, you have to come up with a little bit of a game plan. Go in blind, just 'winging it', and you might miss a bunch of stuff you didn't even know about! It's harder to do with a menu too, because you don't have me telling you stuff like I'm about to tell you.
Given all the excitement and variety of Victorian Christmas, it would be easy to miss out on one very special part of the weekend. But I'm not going to let that happen to you, or your kids, or Pap, or MeMaw....or whatever she goes by these days. It's pretty simple, really. As a musician myself, I just can't let you slip past the live music that's happening across the weekend. To narrow it down even further, I need to tell you about one hot spot of ridiculously wonderful bands, artists, and ensembles that is happening under a single downtown roof.
This Saturday only, December 14th, from 9am-3pm, Victorian Christmasers- one and all- are invited to Trinity United Methodist Church, at 128 W. Howard St, to rest their fun-loving feet while taking in the seasonal sounds. There will 6 different 45-minute concerts given by a host of outstanding local musicians. Tickets cost: zilch. Yep, nothing, nada, no dinero! FREE!
Which means that when you and your gang need a little break from the outdoors, need to come in from the cold and slather yourself in a little honest culture, you can simply move on up to Trinity's front door and hear the music beckoning you.
The real beauty of all of this may lie in the fact that this isn't the church's first Victorian Christmas rodeo, people. Oh no no no. As a matter of fact, this annual day of music has become a masterfully co-ordinated event designed to let visitors enjoy non-stop music and a lot more, too. Karen Arnold has been involved in this particular event for 14 years now, a span of time that has served to really hone in on what makes a day like this click for everyone involved. These days, as Committee Chair of the Concerts at Trinity, all of that experience helps her and her crew pull all of this off.
"We draw a lot from established local groups, from the graduate and sometimes undergraduate program of students from the PSU Music School, as well as established professional musicians," Arnold explains. "We've adopted a schedule of 6 45-minute concerts, beginning on the hour starting at 10 AM and the last starting at 3 PM. For a number of years now the church has sponsored an all day reception downstairs for both those who attend and those who just need a rest and some refreshment."
Don't worry if you're on a tight schedule that day though. Arnold totally understands that there is so much going on at Victorian Christmas that people need things to start on time. Especially if they've got little kids tagging along with them.
"We try to keep to an exact schedule so folks can plan their arrival in terms of attending particular concerts," she says. "And the last 15 minutes before the next concert is for the earlier group to take down and the next to set up so that we stick with an on-the-hour start. The church is set up to broadcast activity in the upstairs sanctuary downstairs to the reception area and people with young children often prefer to listen from the reception area so that there is more flexibility for the kids than sitting in pews during the concert. Some people also bring the children especially to see various instruments live."
This year's Trinity Concerts line-up is both traditional and eclectic at the same time (which is kind of perfect). It runs the gamut from smaller parlor style combos to more grandiose multi-member groups, each of them bringing something original and holiday-esque to the hall.
Kicking off the day at 10am sharp will be Toot-in-Common (brilliant name!), a State College-based flute choir who's distinct brand of musical magic includes just about every kind of flute that exists. They have performed at First Night State College, People's Choice Festival, and previous Bellefonte's Victorian Christmas events. Stop in a check out what happens when a bunch of local flute players decide to make beautiful music together.
Then at 11am, the church will start grooving to the big brassy boom of the Penn State Saxophone Studio & Soloists. Led by Dr. David Stambler, a real life Professor of Saxophone (is that the coolest title ever?!), this group of Penn State students will come breathing electricity into the cold winter morning, guaranteed. Everyone knows that saxophone is the sound of the soul, the driving force behind so much iconic American music from jazz to rock-n-roll, not to mention all of those classic Big Bands of yesteryear. So just think how cool it will be when a whole ROOMFUL of saxes starts playing a Christmas tune all at once!
At noon, it's Altoona native, Shawn Gority's turn to move in an entirely different cultural and musical direction when he breaks out his bagpipes for a solo show. Expect to have the hairs on the back of your wee neck to rise high, as the haunting beautiful sounds of the Scottish hills rains down on every listener in the church. The Philadelphia Inquirer points out that, "Gority's romance with the bagpipe has taken him to Carnegie Hall in New York, the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts in Philadelphia, and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington." Wow.
1pm will mean it's time for State College's Arietta Women’s Ensemble to shine. And shine they will. "Arietta is best known for its rich “womanly” sound, extraordinary musicianship, and its ability and willingness to take on challenging repertoire of all styles, ages, cultures and languages," exclaims the Central Pa Festival of the Arts official website. Almost 20 years into their history, I'm willing to be these ladies can harmonize in a way that will bring a tear to your eye one minute and a big old grin to your face the next.
At 2pm, it's time for local legends as The Curtin Family Ensemble take the stage. Led by Lock Haven University Music Professor, Dr. David Curtin and his wife, Hyun Ju Curtin, who is arguably one of Central Pennsylvania's finest and most accomplished concert pianists, this is going to be a very special musical performance. Why? Because the Curtins will also be joined by their two sons, Brian, 21, on violin, and Ben, 17, on piano and bass guitar.
"Brian started a little after his 5th birthday (his first violin was his 5th birthday gift)," Hyun Ju told me recently, "and Ben started piano when he was about 6 years old. He started bass guitar a little over a year ago."
What can we expect from the show?
"We have been invited to participate in the Bellefonte Victorian Christmas for 6 years now, " she continues. :Christmas is my favorite holiday of the year and busiest time for musicians. There is great music all around us, like Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Ballet and Handel's Messiah... My husband and I have played some of the 4 hands version of the Nutcracker suite in previous years.To me, Christmas is the time of sharing the spirit of love, hope, peace and joy. Great music boosts our mood, heals our pain and reunites our souls. We've never done a program like this one before with classical and jazz in the same program."
Last but certainly not least, local faves Callanish will bring the Celtic Christmas at 2pm with songs born of Ireland and Scotland. Based in Lemont, the four women who make up this band are basically an avalanche of musical talent and experience. Chances are you've probably already seen them, honestly, since they've played every event in Central Pa from the Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts and First Night State College, to Wellsboro's Laurel Festival and State College's Summer's Best Music Fest. By the way, in case you never noticed this: most kids go bananas in a good way to the rising notes of wooden flutes, whistles, banjos, and concertinas. Take them to this gig and watch them fall under a very ancient and worthwhile spell, I say.
There you have it. The full rundown of music at Trinity for Saturday, Victorian Christmas 2019. But let me leave you with one last notion, okay?
As Committee Chair of the Concerts at Trinity, Karen Arnold, wisely pointed out to me, one of the biggest stars of these annual concerts each year is none other than the church itself. In a town of historical buildings, Trinity certainly holds her own. Which makes stopping in at least once during your Victorian Christmas experience a no-brainer.
I'll let Arnold explain.
"Trinity was built in the year 1875-1876, starting with the first floor and then building the 2nd floor sanctuary, which was dedicated in the summer of 1876," she says. "One of the builders was a member of Trinity (then called the Methodist Episcopal Church of Bellefonte) who also headed the razing of the courthouse from the portico back and rebuilding and enlargement over it from 1854-1856 (during which time the second of Trinity's three church buildings, which sat across from the courthouse rear parking lot served as a site for court proceedings.) In the Democratic Watchman article describing the dedication of Trinity's sanctuary, it is described as an auditorium, and indeed it has both the overall structure and the acoustics of an auditorium. The acoustical desirability for musical performance seems in no way impaired by the carpet or the pew padding and enhanced by the high ceiling but without encountering 'reverberation delay' that is sometimes a problem in large churches. The acoustics are clear and very 'present'."
But then Arnold sums it all up like only a Victorian Christmas pro can.
"Trinity is just a great place to listen to music, where a well engineered structure makes a microphone almost never necessary."
There you go. Music makes the season. Don't forget to treat yourself to some this weekend.
Bellefonte Victorian Christmas Celebrate with Music at Trinity United Methodist Church
Saturday, December 14th 10am-4pm, FREE!
128 W. Howard St., Bellefonte, PA
11:00 AM Penn State Saxophone Studio & Soloists
12:00 PM Shawn Gority, Bagpiper
1:00 PM Arietta Women’s Ensemble
2:00 PM Curtin Family Ensemble
3:00 PM Callanish
Believe it or not, there's also a lot MORE going for Victorian Christmas than what I've listed. Be sure to visit the official website so you don't miss anything!
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