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Arts

Halalisa Singers to share international ‘Songs of Light’

By Nancy Shohet West
Globe Correspondent / December 1, 2011
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Terry Lockhart of Sudbury hadn’t even heard of the Halalisa Singers before he attended a performance of the vocal ensemble in Stow three years ago. But by the time the applause ended, he knew that the next time they stood on stage, he wanted to be among them.

A seasoned vocalist who had performed with a glee club in college and later with an MIT choir, he auditioned for the Halalisa Singers, and was awarded a place in the bass section, where he now holds what he calls “the position of section leader by default.’’

Winning a spot with the highly selective ensemble is only the first challenge its members face, however. Once in the group, they must be prepared to learn to sing in Swahili, Dutch, Arabic, and Latvian, among other languages.

And, in the words of artistic director Mary Cunningham Neumann, this prospect occasionally causes singers to “freak out.’’ So before offering them a spot with her 31-member group, the Lexington resident said, she asks them how comfortable they are singing in a foreign language.

For the most part, though, group members - who come from a number of area communities, including Acton, Carlisle, Needham, and Stow, as well as Lexington and Sudbury - say the challenge is exactly why they try out for the Halalisa Singers.

“We get a lot of musicians who have sung with bigger groups or groups with more anonymity, and they want to test themselves in an ensemble where their voice will carry more responsibility than it will among 100 or 200 other voices,’’ Neumann said. “A lot of people come specifically for the challenge.’’

The group was founded nearly 20 years ago by Nick Page, who also is the founder and director of the Arlington-based Mystic Chorale.

“His goal was to create a chamber ensemble that would be smaller than the Mystic Chorale and could do a more difficult repertoire,’’ said Neumann, who took the reins from Page as artistic director in 2004.

The name Halalisa, which means celebration in Zulu, reflects both the group’s interest in multiculturalism and the exuberance behind its repertoire.

“African music, including South African, is one of the traditions we favor,’’ Neumann said. “We sing world music, but what does that mean? Essentially, that we seek out musical traditions from all over the world. Our group members love music and have an open mind about it; they want to go far beyond the classical Western repertoire, and explore the music of many different cultures.

“We draw upon a lot of different languages, and we always make it a priority to sing authentically. That means we find a native speaker to train us in each song. One of our members who is Palestinian once called his dad during a rehearsal to ask him for pronunciation advice.’’

The Halalisa ensemble performs two major programs each year, one in the winter and one in the spring. At other times, they perform at benefits and special events.

“The singers and the audience alike have such a good time when we perform,’’ said Tamasin Foote, a soprano from Carlisle who also sings with her church choir at First Parish in Concord.

“Our concerts are joyous. We so enjoy both singing and sharing the music, and our audiences respond, participating enthusiastically. This is definitely music of the heart from all around the world. As someone who has sung with many groups over the years, I particularly enjoy singing with a group this size,’’ Foote said.

“It’s big enough to enjoy the camaraderie of singing together and small enough that every voice matters.’’

The Halalisa Singers will perform its winter concert, “Songs of Light,’’ this weekend at two venues: Saturday at 8 p.m. at First Parish in Lexington, 7 Harrington Road; and Sunday at 3 p.m. at First Parish of Sudbury, 327 Concord Road. Admission is $15, or $12 for students and seniors.

For more information, call 781-862-6353 or go to www.halalisa.org.

ART ALL AROUND: For holiday shoppers eager to buy local this year, opportunities abound this weekend to support artists in area communities.

The ArtSpace-Maynard Art Center presents its annual Holiday Gift Sale this weekend, featuring handmade items by local artists working in media that include ceramics, textiles, jewelry, paper, photography, soap, and wood.

The hours are 5 to 8 p.m. tomorrow, Saturday noon to 5 p.m., and Sunday noon to 4 p.m. at the art center, 63 Summer St. in Maynard. For information, call 978-897-9828 or go to www.artspacemaynard.com.

Also, more than a dozen artists, all members of the cooperative gallery Sign of the Dove, are exhibiting and selling their work through Dec. 24 at the Mall at Chestnut Hill in Newton.

For hours and more information, call 617-965-1067 or go to www.signofthedoveco-op.com.

SINGING AFOOT: Area ensembles are also offering entertainment options this holiday season.

The Waltham-based Reagle Music Theatre of Greater Boston brings back its annual revue, “ChristmasTime,’’ for the 29th season, with this year’s show featuring Broadway stars Sarah Pfisterer and Rick Hilsabeck.

This musical celebration of the holidays includes choral and dance numbers, beautiful costumes, and custom scenery designed and painted by artist Robert Moody.

The run begins with shows at 1 and 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and performances continue Dec. 9 through 11, at Waltham High School’s Robinson Theatre, 617 Lexington St. Tickets are $35 to $57 general admission, with discounts for seniors and youths, as well as groups of 10 or more. For details, call 781-894-2330 or 781-891-5600, or visit www.reaglemusictheatre.org.

In Marlborough, the a cappella jazz vocal ensemble Syncopation, featuring AubreyJohnson, Christine Fawson, David Thorne Scott, and Tsunenori “Lee’’ Abe, presents a holiday program Wednesday at 7 p.m.

The free performance takes place in the Bigelow Auditorium at Marlborough Public Library, 35 West Main St.

For more information, call 413-648-9663 or e-mail rajohnson736@ gmail.com.

LIVE ON STAGE: Joining a number of area troupes providing holiday treats, Enter Stage Left Theater presents “A Christmas Carol’’ at 7 p.m. tomorrow and Saturday, as well as Dec. 9 and 10, and 2 p.m. Sunday at the Hopkinton Historical Society, 168 Hayden Rowe St.

The production includes local children, teens, and adults; and caroling will be provided by the Treblemakers, Enter Stage Left’s adult chorus, before the shows. The Hopkinton Historical Society will sell refreshments. Tickets are $12 for adults, $10 for students and seniors, and are available at www.enterstagelefttheater.org.

The JCC Magic Ark Performing Arts Series for Families presents “Goodnight Moon’’ and “The Runaway Bunny,’’ performed by the Mermaid Theatre of Nova Scotia, on Sunday at 1 and 3 p.m. at the Leventhal-Sidman Jewish Community Center, 333 Nahanton St. in Newton.

Tickets are $12. For tickets or more information, call 617-965-5226 or go to www.jccgb.org.

Concord Youth Theatre performs “Anne of Green Gables,’’ the classic 19th-century story of an orphan girl who moves to a farm on Prince Edward Island in Canada. Performances will be at the Fenn School, 516 Monument St. in Concord, beginning at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, with shows at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, as well as Dec. 9-11.

Tickets are $13; call 978-371-1482, mailbox 1, or visit www.concordyouththeatre.org.

Send ideas for the Arts column to westarts@globe.com.

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