Valley Chorale

Valley Chorale of Front Royal practices for its upcoming concerts.

Valley Chorale of Front Royal has gone through several changes over the last few years.

Having changed its name in 2018, introduced more contemporary music in 2019 and survived a pandemic in 2020, the community choir is excited to return to the stage this holiday season for its three-night performance of “This Shining Night.”

With a free program of 12 various holiday and seasonal songs, the choir will sing at:

* 7 p.m. on Friday at Grace United Methodist Church in Middletown

* 3 p.m. on Saturday at Robinson Auditorium in Handley Library, Winchester

* 3 p.m. on Sunday at Calvary Episcopal Church in Front Royal.

It’s “a seasonal concert celebrating the human spirit,” said David Freese, president of the choir’s board of directors.

“Really lush, beautiful music,” he said.

The choir is led by Artistic Director Ryan Keebaugh, director of choral music and assistant professor of music at Bridgewater College, and accompanied by pianist Rebekah Hade, who also teaches general music and theater at Signal Knob Middle School in Strasburg.

One of their tunes is “Let the River Run,” by Carly Simon, which is “all about building a new brighter future,” Freese said.

Another piece offers a new arrangement on “How Can I Keep from Singing,” he said.

Though they fit with the theme of winter, he said these songs also speak of persevering after hard times, such as the COVID-19 pandemic.

“How Can I Keep from Singing,” he said, is “kind of a song saying, ‘Yes, we’re gonna get through this.’”

Other songs pay tribute to the season, he said.

Freese particularly likes an arc in the concert formed by three pieces that look at the beginning of a day, the evening and then the dark of night:

* "Glow,” by contemporary composer Eric Whitacre, which captures “those deeply felt moments at the break of day, when one awakes, looks outside a window for example [and] sees all the inherent possibility in a new, perfect day.”

* "Evening Prayer,” by contemporary Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo using words by St. Augustine, which is “a musical prayer” that, as evening falls, depicts God watching over those awake or weeping and surrounds those sleeping with angels.

* "Sure on This Shining Night,” by contemporary composer Morten Lauridsen, which is based on the James Agee poem of the same name.

“It’s all about in the depth of night when you can’t see the stars, knowing that you’ll be all right,” Freese said.

Offering a mix of contemporary songs with older ones is helping the choir stay relevant, Freese said.

Changing their name from the Front Royal Oratorio Society was another way of connecting with a community that he said probably had no idea what an oratorio society is.

“They don’t really exist anymore,” he said.

Hailing from a European tradition of setting music on a shelf to discuss it, he said those sorts of groups are kind of a relic of the past.

“We needed to make a change,” Freese recalled. “We really wanted to shift away from kind of implying that we were stuck in the 1950s.”

Besides changing their name to the Valley Chorale, he said that switching up the music was a way for them to become “vital in the community.”

They noticed that many of the composers they chose to feature were men; so, they’ve been making a concerted effort to look for more women composers to highlight in their selections.

When the pandemic canceled in-person events, that put a stopper in their effort, but they’re excited now to return to the stage and continue offering more variety through an experience that resonates.

Valley Chorale of Front Royal is funded by the Virginia Commission for the Arts/National Endowment for the Arts, the Marion Park Lewis Foundation, the Town of Front Royal, the American Woodmark Corporation, Sheetz and The Woltz-Winchester Foundation.

They also have a major corporate underwriter in State Farm/Bill Powers Agency.

The choir’s goal, Freese said, is to “illuminate the human experience through great choral music” and “strengthen the community fabric that unites us.”

All choir personnel are vaccinated and will be masked. Everyone in attendance must wear a mask.

For more information, call 540-635-4842 or visit valleychoraleoffrontroyal.org.

Contact Josette Keelor at jkeelor@nvdaily.com

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