Antietam Women's Ensemble wows crowd with concert

July 04, 2008|By HARRY NOGLE, Special to The Herald-Mail

So much of the impact of the small, Antietam Women's Ensemble concerts held at the Holy Trinity Lutheran Church in Sharpsburg is the intimate interactions between musicians and audiences.

Maybe this is because Director Georgiann Toole is small (she might stand 5 foot.) She stands on a low podium nearly in the middle of the audience while she introduces numbers and directs the 28-member women's chorus.

Toole is energetic; she is humorous; she smiles. She makes each member of the audience feel as though she were talking to them, personally.

"Through the Eyes of a Child" began with a background of thunder and lightening and pouring rain on a Saturday night in Sharpsburg with an upbeat, modern Georgiann Toole version of a traditional children's lullaby, called "Rock-a My Baby."


The lullaby starts with a soothing, sleep-inducing slow tempo, but soon changes to a faster, swing tempo that had some audience members tapping their feet on the carpeted floor. In fact, even the usually stern Martin Luther pictured in a stained glass window in the rear of the Holy Trinity Lutheran church seemed to smile!

Toole explained that this was "not a children's concert, but a concert that looks at life through the eyes of a child."

"A Mexican Lullaby," narrated by Elena Smidt, followed, telling children that "Angels keep their night watch, and guard you with their love."

Soprano Sue Ann Nogle showed strength of voice and versatility as she sang her solo in Spanish.

Toole explained that "Child with a Starry Crayon" can be considered "painting with sound." This song, with a text written by fifth-grade student Dinushi Munasinghe and narrated by Fanny Smith's rich, distinctive voice, relates that "all the children are sleeping, except one, the child with the starry crayon." Soloists Rosemarie Coy and keyboard accompanist Dianne Holliman received audience applause for their performances.

Eugene Butler, a favorite composer of Toole, creates a "magical, mystical" mood with "Child of the Forest."

The lyrics are so personal that Toole tells the audience, "If you can tell me what it's about, tell me after the performance."

Rosemarie Coy and Judy Bishoff narrated this piece that asks "Who can she be? Who can she be? Child of the forest."

"A Wonderful Spring Afternoon" originated from a composition assignment during one of Toole's sight reading classes.

Soprano Erin Elliott related to Toole that her 10-year-old cousin, Mary Clark, who lives in Staten Island, N.Y., had written a poem that Elliott thought could be set to music.

Toole agreed, and alto and Sharpsburg resident Ella Mose set the lyrics to music suitable for a four-part women's chorus. What is remarkable is that Mose, a retired nurse, has had no music training since childhood piano lessons, which ended when she was 12.

Toole explained that Mose is "a lifelong listener and supporter of music."

"All of us are creative beings," Toole said. "We are better, happier beings when we are creative."

Her cousin, Erin Elliott, successfully handled the high notes of her solo, which she sang with joy and energy.

Toole introduced the next number by saying that now "it's time to play," and play the Ensemble did with Robert Chilcott's arrangement of the playful children's counting song "This Old Man." Chilcott, who has arranged for the King Family Singers, has written a number with a show tune, dance band tempo that accompanist Dianne Holliman maintained throughout for the appreciative audience.

America's first great songwriter, Stephen Foster, wrote "Oh! Susannah" and other tunes, thinking he could write music, then just sit back and reap the rewards of his efforts.

As Toole related, "And he was wrong!"

Foster died with 38 cents to his name, but left a legacy of American music and the Ensemble sang "Oh! Susanna" with confidence and enthusiasm, and concluded with a "slap-stomp."

Emotions overwhelmed several Ensemble members during the early rehearsals of "Prayer of the Children." This number, narrated by Chelsea McBee and Gabriele Davis, is a tribute to the children of Bosnia.

The lyrics ask, "Can you hear the prayer of the children, on bended knee?" As the intensity of the volume increased, wet eyes appeared in the audience, too, as they listened to the Ensemble sing the lyrics "Crying Jesus help me to feel the love again in my own land. Help me to feel the sun again."

The "Rock-a My Baby" encore, almost a novelty song reminiscent of the Kay Keyser dance band, gave the audience opportunity to stand and applaud appreciatively.

Now, just when you are ready to head to Sharpsburg for the next concert, get ready for a change.

The fall Antietam Women's Ensemble concert will be held in Shepherdstown, W.Va., on Saturday, Nov. 22, at 8 p.m. to celebrate the completion of the new St. Agnes Catholic Church building. A commissioned composition will be part of the concert. Don't miss it.

Harry Nogle is the town correspondent for the Sharpsburg and Keedysville areas. His "Around Sharpsburg and Keedysville" column usually appears on Friday. He is on vacation this week, but wrote this review of the Antietam Women's Ensemble concert from earlier this year.

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