Ideas, idle gossip and occasionally important odds ‘n’ ends
IF YOU’RE looking to get into the holiday spirit as early as possible, Congress Hall has transformed from a summertime resort to a Winter Wonderland. Take a stroll on their grounds and you’ll see the halls decked with Christmas cheer: the columns are up-lit in alternating beams of white and red, several illuminated reindeer are grazing on the lawn (look closely and you’ll spot Rudolph consorting with the rest of the team) and a 37-foot Blue Spruce has been installed at the crux of the building, strung with colorful lights in anticipation of the December 3 tree-lighting ceremony. That event begins at 7:30pm with a performance from the Congress Hall festival choir.
But the festivities don’t stop there – every Saturday through December 18 children can enjoy breakfast with Santa, story time with Ms Claus by the Christmas tree, and a holiday ceramics class. Winter Wonderland activities will also be available every weekend through January 2 – you can enjoy train rides, a hot chocolate bar and a little tented village. Congress Hall is also screening family-friendly holiday movies in the Harrison Room – this Sunday’s offering is Elf, starring Will Ferrell, a movie that (we’re a little shy to admit) had us shifting from laughter to sentimental tears in record time.
Don’t forget that this Saturday you can enjoy the West Cape May Christmas Parade rolling down Broadway and around Perry Street. With performances from local dance troupes and marching bands, fire trucks strung with Christmas lights and enough good cheer to (barely) combat the winter cold, this parade has become a Cape May institution, largely thanks to the incredible efforts of Charlotte Daily, the woman responsible for organizing this event for five decades.
HANDEL composed his Messiah for Easter, but churches nationwide have chosen to perform it around Christmas anyway. You may not be familiar with the work (and no one blames you, since the entire piece is almost three hours long), but everyone with working ears knows the famous “Hallelujah” chorus, a segment of the Messiah so ubiquitous it often ends up as a punchline in TV commercials and cartoons.
For the past 23 years, Cape Island Baptist Church has upheld the tradition of a Messiah singalong, bringing together amateur and professional musicians from all over South Jersey. This past Friday, the Mission-style church at the corner of Columbia and Gurney was packed with volunteer musicians and audience members – attendants began pulling out folding chairs for additional seating at the end of each pew.
Since the whole work runs about as long as Titanic, Friday’s performance featured an abbreviated program of solo arias interspersed with choral sections. The church provided scores for everyone to use during the singalong, and given the complicated vocal lines involved, the choir gave an incredible performance. They were led by director Nancy Robinson, who teaches music in the Linwood public schools. The choir was accompanied by a large contingent of instrumentalists, culled largely from local high schools and colleges. The solo performances provided a hushed counterpoint to more raucous choral movements – Lena Patterson’s rendition of “Come Unto Him” was delivered sweetly with careful attention to the Biblical text, and Chris Lorge’s “Every Valley” was delivered with all the polish (and considerable breath control) that the score demands.
Highlight of the evening was when Herbert Balian approached the podium to conduct the rousing “Hallelujah” chorus. Balian has conducted the Messiah here for the past 22 years, and though he didn’t feel up to conducting the entire piece this time around, he agreed to guest conduct the most famous section. He commanded the singers forcefully, waving his fists and shushing the choir during dynamic shifts. Ruth Fritsch and Mildred Herman were responsible for organizing this large gathering of South Jersey musicians. Thanks to their efforts Cape May was ringing with song this Friday. Here’s to next year’s performance (when they may need a bigger venue…)
SPEAKING of which, we are happy to report that there appeared a giant hole in the side of convention hall on Monday morning. We’re excited to see the progress on the new structure, and even more excited to see the great benefits the completed convention hall will bring to our town.