By Harry Schroeder

The Keys Choral Arts, a group of sixty-odd singers under the direction of Timothy Peterson, gave a concert, “A Christmas Choral Feast,” on Tuesday evening at St. Paul’s. It offered a wide range of music, with lyrics from the Latin, from American Romantic poets, and translations from French and German. The concert was enthusiastically received, with, at the end, a standing ovation.

The choice of program was quite original, without calling undue attention to itself. There were no Christmas clichés—nothing anywhere near Rudolph—and the melodies of the respective pieces, while mostly simple harmonically and so entirely appropriate to Christmas, were a good deal more interesting than the usual hymns. Of the twelve composers represented, only two were familiar: it was a pleasure to make the acquaintance of the other ten.

Accompanying on piano was Lou Ann Steely, accurately and within the rhythms set by the conductor and singers. On organ, briefly, was Tom Scheck. There was one soloist, the baritone Dean Warden, whose singing was strong enough to balance against the chorus.

This was the group’s second concert since its reorganization as a nonprofit last year. It is the descendant of the chorale formed by Emily Boyd Lowe thirty years ago, a legendary chorus which started with nine members and grew to more than a hundred, meanwhile becoming a center of local musical energy which spun off into such other organizations as the Key West Pops, the Island Opera Company, and the Paradise Big Band. The group survived many years of an uncomfortable relationship with the community college, until it was dropped from the curriculum two years ago as part of the school’s abandonment of music generally. Now, from the evidence of the other night, it is prospering.

For those of us who can remember Emily’s Chorale, it is impossible to avoid comparisons. This group definitely does not suffer by them. Emily taught her singers the two major and opposing virtues of choral performance: to be responsible to musical precision, and to sing honestly and with open hearts and full feeling. Mr. Peterson’s people do both, excellently. A singing group’s measure of precision is whether its lyrics can be clearly understood: one singer off rhythm will muddy every phrase. That was not a problem the other night: lyrics were usually clear, even in the resonant but imprecise acoustics of St. Paul’s. As to expression of intensity of feeling, this group is quite capable of opening up, with real power. It did very little of that Tuesday night—the choice of music precluded it—but when it did, it was quite convincing. And it excels at expressing the profound intensity which can come from singing softly.

This is all the result of their disciplined approach to the music—the Keys Choral Arts does what its conductor tells it to do. Given Mr. Peterson’s obviously superb taste, there is no limit to the musical eloquence these people can achieve. It’s very rewarding to have that happening here again.

[livemarket market_name="KONK Life LiveMarket" limit=3 category=“” show_signup=0 show_more=0]