Halalisa Singers

Artistic Director Mary Cunningham leads the Halalisa Singers in "Journey Home: Songs of Celebration," a program marking the world-music ensemble's first live performance since January 2020, YourArlington partner Patch reports.

The 7:30 p.m. performance will be presented on Saturday, April 9, at First Parish Unitarian Universalist, 630 Mass. Ave. Tickets are $25. Proof of vaccination and masks required. For information call 781-648-5579 or click here >>

Accompanying the singers will be pianist Trevor Berens, guitarist A. J. Heidkamp, and percussionist Bertram Lehmann. 

As some challenges from the past two years recede and others continue, "Journey Home" offers music celebrating resilience, perseverance and joy. The concert defines the arc of Halalisa's journey from the ease and joy of the choir's last prepandemic season, through the full shutdown of choral singing and a distanced season of virtual choir concerts, to the recent return to in-person rehearsals.

"Journey Home" opens with Daniel Hughes' spirited arrangement of "Babethandaza" ("They Were Praying"), a traditional South African song of celebration, followed by "Jubilate Deo," Peter Anglea's sparkling, buoyant arrangement of the Latin text from Psalm 100. "Sing Gently" by revered choral composer Eric Whitacre was premiered in 2020 by a virtual choir of more than 17,000 singers, including some from Halalisa.

With shimmering chord clusters, stirring harmonies and uplifting lyrics, Whitacre makes a potent statement about the power of many voices raised in song. Susan Brumfield's "No Time" combines the tunes of two traditional camp meeting songs, "Rise, Oh Fathers" and "No Time." Her arrangement interweaves these melodies to create pure, simple harmonies to portray the singing of angels, while the overall dynamic arc depicts the homeward journey of the lyrics.

The choir reprises Abbie Betinis' "Resilience," the title piece from the group's fall 2020 virtual choir concert, as well as a piece they performed virtually in 2021, Frank Ticheli's breathtaking "Earth Song," an a cappella piece showcasing lush harmonics, striking dynamic contrasts and original lyrics. With its sweeping dynamics and expressive singing, contemporary gospel composer Roger Holland's gorgeous setting of the St. Francis of Assisi prayer, "Lord, Make Me an Instrument" makes a majestic musical statement.

"The Road Home" by Stephen Paulus is one of his best-known works for a cappella chorus. Set to the folk tune "The Love Wild Bird" from the 1835 "Southern Harmony Songbook," the eloquent text portrays the emotional experience of coming home. The lyrics for "Graduation Song" by Andrew-John Bethke and Simthembile Xekatwana include Halalisa, the Zulu word for celebration. Originally written for the South African Rhodes University Graduation Procession, the piece includes four languages honoring both the region and academia: Zulu, Xhosa, Sesotho and Latin.

Many spent time during the pandemic making music on apps like Instagram and TikTok. One tune that went viral was "The Wellerman," a well-known whaling song from New Zealand. The low voices of Halalisa will perform the sea chantey, while the higher voices offer the ethereal "May It Be," written by Enya for a "Lord of the Rings" film. The concert closes with two powerful songs of celebration, Jacob Naverud's rousing "Sisi Ni Moja (We Are One)," and Richard Smallwood's iconic hymn "Total Praise."

Cunningham is in her 17th year as artistic director of the Halalisa Singers. Following her vision to share their music, mission and message with the world, she leads the ensemble in reaching out to wider audiences and performing an eclectic and diverse choral repertoire, both here in the Boston/New England area and internationally. Mary is well known in the Boston area as a choral conductor, vocalist, and flute soloist and holds degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Music and the "Mozarteum" in Salzburg, Austria. She is the Music Director at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Reading, is on the Woodwind Faculty of the Powers Music School in Belmont where she also leads their "Watch City Singers" Chorus, and has a private teaching studio in her Medford home.

Pianist, composer, and accompanist Berens plays in many different styles, specializing in avant-garde classical music, traditional classical music, and free improvisation. Trevor holds degrees in piano performance, composition and music therapy from Loyola Marymount University, California Institute of the Arts and Lesley University. As a collaborator, he enjoys working with solo vocalists and instrumentalists, chamber groups, choruses, and with dancers and actors. Trevor is the founder, pianist, and resident composer of the nine-member new music ensemble Sonic Liberation Players. Trevor is the Pianist at the UU Church of Reading and, with his wife Jessica, runs the Berens Voice and Piano Studio out of Pepperell.

Percussionist Bertram Lehmann is a versatile, widely renowned performer who has appeared with artists including Paquito D'Rivera, Danilo Perez, Kenny Werner, Luciana Souza, and Dave Samuel's Caribbean Jazz Project. He teaches at Berklee College of Music and Phillips Academy, and has conducted clinics and workshops at Harvard University, Princeton University, Wellesley College, Oberlin College, Moscow Conservatory, Keimyung University in South Korea, and elsewhere. He has played on more than 40 recordings with musicians including the Mehmet Sanlikol Big Band, NEA jazz master Dave Liebman, Mango Blues, and Randy Brecker. His international performances have included appearances in Bermuda, Ecuador, Germany, Ghana, India, Israel, Mexico, Russia, South Korea, Spain, and Turkey, at venues including Lincoln Center, Boston's Symphony Hall, the Tchaikovsky Conservatory and The Kennedy Center.

This news announcement was published Friday, March 25, 2022.