Volume 13, Issue 48 ~ December 1 - December 7, 2005

Cooking up Christmas Spirit

Peek behind the curtain while these pageants are still brewin’ their holiday magic

The pageants of Christmas are the spices that add rich and special flavor to the holiday season. In and around Chesapeake Country, you can season your December to taste with your choice of hundreds of holiday happenings. Before you feast, peek with us while the magic’s brewing.

Many Voices, Many Heads, Many Hats

Annapolis Chorale’s celebration of Christmas blends180 voices with 40 instruments in a festival of song.

This time of the year, Annapolis Chorale must don many hats to satisfy audiences on many evenings. First, there’s the Annapolis Youth Chorus’ holiday show on December 3, followed by the twin Celebration of Christmas shows on December 8 and 9 — with the second performance sold out long ago — then the dual Messiah concerts by candlelight on December 16 and 17. Those are the main courses, in addition to the 10-plus mini-concerts that members do for special holiday events, like joining the Ballet Theater of Maryland for the first weekend of its Nutcracker.

“I always get people to get their shopping done by December first, so when they’ve spent the whole month singing, they’re not left at the end with nothing done,” says Katherine Hilton, spokeswoman for the Chorale, who also preaches on the virtues of flexibility this time of year. “It’s chaotic, but a lot of fun.”

The first hat is young and cherubic, as the voices of Annapolis Youth Chorus’ three divisions resound through St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, blending young voices in harmony for seasonal songs from around the world.

The Chorale’s next hat is cozy, warm and fun. For the Celebration of Christmas, some 180 adult singers join voices with 40 instruments in the orchestra to fill Maryland Hall with seasonal sounds. Christmas arrives with traditional songs and new tunes, blended by the Chorale, the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra, guest soloist Amy Cofield and the Annapolis Youth Chorus, all guided by music director J. Ernest Green. Add poetry to the program with holiday stories and poems from familiar voices: On December 8, NBC4 news anchor Wendy Rieger, and on December 9, National Public Radio’s Weekend Sunday host Liane Hansen will read ’Twas the Night Before Christmas and other seasonal selections.

The Chorale wears its crowns for classical, elegant and rich Messiah performances at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church. Theirs is a true-to-life Messiah, which recreates what the oratorio would have sounded like in Handel’s times, with 60 to 70 singers and a smaller orchestra, all lit by candlelight. Chorale voices rise and mingle in harmony like church incense in three versions of this show — one traditional performance, one with high schoolers and one for families. Joining the Chorale for its Messiah are guest soloist soprano Leah Inger; mezzo Susan Fleming; tenor Andre Bierman; bass Larry Smalls.

The first Messiah by Candlelight continues beyond the Christmas section for a larger serving of the oratorio in a 90-minute concert illuminated by candles. The second, MusicWork’s Messiah, features choirs from four area high schools. The third, the Messiah for Families, sings only the birth of Christ in an hour-long performance, followed by families joining to sing carols.

Full as their Christmas hat rack is, Hilton says, Chorale singers will jump back into song a week or so after the new year.

• Annapolis Youth Chorus sings December 3 at 7:30pm at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Church Circle, Annapolis. $15 w/discounts: 410-263-1906; annapolischorale.org.

• Celebration of Christmas on December 8 at 7:30pm & December 9 (already sold out). Both shows at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St., Annapolis. $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-263-1906.

• Chorale’s Messiah by Candlelight on December 16 at 8pm; Chorale’s MusicWorks Messiah on December 17 at 8pm; Messiah and Carols for Families on December 18 at 3pm. Messiah performances at St. Anne’s Episcopal Church, Church Circle, Annapolis. $28 w/discounts: 410-263-1906; www.annapolischorale.org.

–Carrie Steele

Cooking up Sugar Plums with the Ballet Theatre of Maryland

Dancers young and old perform Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s The Nutcracker.

Tutus are stacked like a giant layer cake behind a desk as a voice calls out Rehearsing the dance! The Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s studio is packed with dancers preparing their Christmas Nutcracker.

Suddenly, everyone is in motion. Some take their places on the dance floor while others position themselves along the walls and doorways. Debra Clark, a parent volunteer, is busy stitching mouse army costumes while a dancer sews the ribbons on her toe shoes. Parents sit on the hall floor and work on laptops or piles of official-looking papers as children practice pirouettes.

Then the familiar strains of Tchaikovsky’s music fill the studio, and the dancers whirl to a brisk waltz. They all seem so young and vibrant that only they can tell students from apprentices from professionals. Three of the tiniest girls line up to be cookies chased by the mouse army. With all the seriousness of Margot Fonteyn, they wait in perfect attention for their cues and then dance.

Featuring original choreography by artistic director Dianna Cuatto, The Ballet Theatre of Maryland’s Nutcracker is written to include many students as well as the corps de ballet and apprentices. Skill, size and age are blended the way a conductor leads an orchestra, the combination creating a visual piece that is fun, sweet and rich with detail.

Full performances with the Annapolis Chorale and Chamber Orchestra performing the music on December 10 and 11. Recorded music substitutes on December 17 and 18, a family-discount performance. Bring your ticket stubs from any performance to attend the Sugar Plum Party — with dancers, light refreshments, Santa and the Sugar Plum Fairy — 3:30-4:40pm December 18. All at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St., Annapolis: $48 w/discounts; rsvp: 410-263-5544; www.balletmaryland.org.

–Kat Bennett

Tuning up for Christmas

Annapolis Symphony Orchestra performs The Messiah with the U.S. Naval Academy glee club and Hood College’s glee club.

Musicians are like merchants: Christmas is when they make their money. In December, the musicians of the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra play as many concerts as in the previous six months.

“They’re working triple time,” says symphony orchestra president R. Lee Streby of the musicians who are hard at work preparing three of the best-loved pageants of Christmas: The Nutcracker on December 3 and 4 and The Messiah on December 10 and 11, as well as their own Holiday Pops concert on December 16.

“Each concert is basically rehearsed over one week,” Streby explains, “so the week leading up to Nutcracker — starting November 28 — we rehearse that program, then the following week we rehearse Messiah, and the week following that Pops. The month’s very busy for musicians because they’re such a big part of the holiday.”

As well as busy, musicians in December must be nimble. Each concert has its own music, its own conductor and its own location. Only for Annapolis Symphony Orchestra’s annual Holiday Pops concert do the musicians play on home ground, Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, following the direction of their own — albeit new — conductor, Jose-Luis Novo.

For even that one-night extravaganza of classical and holiday favorites, a Maryland Capital Christmas, the 60-plus musicians of the full orchestra must learn some new tricks. New soloists join the orchestra for each concert. This year they’ll have to rise not only to the heights of vocal artist Carolyn Black-Sotir; they’ll also have to keep up with the 140 voices of Morgan State University’s famous choir and its own director, Eric Conway.

8pm December 16 at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St., Annapolis. $40 w/discounts: 410-269-0907; www.annapolissymphony.org.

For The Messiah, the musicians travel to the U.S. Naval Academy, where they join forces with two glee clubs — Hood College from Frederick also lends their voices to the Academy’s glee club to fill out the sound of Handel’s resounding oratorio — all guided by the Academy’s music director John Barry Talley to announce the birth of Christ.

“That appearance at the Naval Academy chapel is the highlight of the season,” says Streby. “Over 4,000 people hear those two performances.”

Add yourself to that number and you’ll take a lesson in orchestral evolution. “It’s the smallest Baroque orchestra of about 25 players you’ll hear,” says Streby, making reference to the 18th century cultural epoch named for an irregular pearl for its deviation from classical strictures. “Several instruments were not even invented: there were no flutes and no clarinets, trombones or tuba. In 1748, Handel wrote for oboes, bassoons and trumpets as well as strings, timpani, organ and harpsichord.”

8pm December 10, 2pm December 11 at the Main Chapel of the U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis. $15-25; rsvp: 410-293-8497; www.tickets.com.

Annapolis Symphony Orchestra president R. Lee Streby with Abigail Francisco of Abigail’s School of Classical Ballet.

For The Nutcracker, the musicians travel not so far in time (that holiday favorite dates to 1892) but farther in space, thereby scoring a first. For the Annapolis Symphony Orchestra has played many Nutcrackers, but never one in Calvert County.

For that landmark performance, an orchestra of about 37 musicians conducted by Annapolis Chorale’s J. Ernest Green teams up with Abigail’s School of Classical Ballet.

The orchestra is sized to fit in the pit at Mary Harrison Cultural Center in Owings. But the music won’t be cut down. “There’s a special orchestration used when the music is live with a ballet unless the theater is very large,” Streby explains. “Tchaikovsky’s original score calls for triple winds — that’s 32 each flutes, bassoons, oboes and clarinets — while ours has double, plus a slightly smaller string section.”

That’s not the only difference the orchestral pros will find in Calvert. Abigail Francisco’s company is a school of young dancers. Three New York professionals — including Sascha Radetsky, who took to the screen in Center Stage — dance The Nutcracker with them.

For Streby, that raises the ante.

“We’re very excited,” he said. “From our perspective, it’s all about the music and bringing people to hear their artistry. Abigail’s does a quality production that’s supported by community. That’s what’s important in the arts.”

7:30pm December 3, 2pm December 4 at Mary D. Harrison Cultural Arts Center at Northern High School, Rt. 4 to Chaneyville Rd., Owings. $35 w/discounts; rsvp: 301-855-0282.

With so much on their music stands, at least the players already know all the music.

“The music of the holidays is so pop and widely performed,” says Streby, “that I venture you’d be hard pressed to find a musician at this level that doesn’t know it.”

—Sandra Olivetti Martin

For God’s Sake, Baptist Opera

Gioele Settembrini combines his love for preaching with his love of opera at the annual holiday sing-alongs at First Baptist Church of Shady Side.

In the quiet Bayside community of Shady Side, Italian opera singer Gioele Settembrini founded a Baptist church a half century ago.

Settembrini, 75, is a humble preacher with musical gifts he shares through annual Christmas sing-alongs at the First Baptist Church of Shady Side.

There’s often more or less than truth in a name, but this one means exactly what it says.

“I went from door to door to find out who was Baptist and found three,” says Settembrini of his 1957 mission to Shady Side. Fresh from Washington Bible College, he’d chosen Shady Side on a tip from his father-in-law that there wasn’t a Baptist church in the town. “It’s time to start a church, I said, and we did,” says Settembrini. He’s returned here to serve as minister off and on ever since, as the church grew from a borrowed fire department hall to a log cabin to sunlit sanctuary, classrooms, offices and a fellowship hall.

Four years before starting the church, at 23, Settembrini had immigrated to America from his southern Italian village of Brindisi.

He came to the United States as an exchange student , bringing with him two loves: God and opera. In pursuit of the first, he attended Washington Bible College.

The second, opera, has remained his life-long avocation.

“Preaching has been all my life,” he says. “And so has singing.”

With little training in opera, Settembrini has taught himself by listening to records of great Italian singers, as well as by studying with singers and voice teachers.

“I don’t even read music,” says Settembrini, who’s achieved the gold standard of musical success: he’s sung in Carnegie Hall, as well as in 49 states and Italy. He has a repertoire of 400 songs, including some 30 he knows by heart.

“When it comes to opera,” he says, “I can go to town because I know so many of them.” In younger days, Settembrini was able to sing for hours without tiring; nowadays, his stamina won’t carry him through a complete opera.

Even it if did, his congregation would likely prefer preaching.

“People don’t go too much for opera around here,” the singing preacher laments. “But they are waking up a little to opera.”

The Christmas repertoire is so rich that his annual holiday sing-along can do without opera — though not likely with the Christmas part of the oratorio The Messiah.

“You can sing O Holy Night, Birthday of a King, Silent Night, things from the Messiah like Comfort Ye and more,” says Settembrini.

That’s what you’ll hear Saturday, December 17 at the First Baptist Church of Shady Side.

Shady Side Sing-Along with Gioele Settembrini and soprano, plus pianist Betty Hepler: 7pm Saturday, December 17 at First Baptist Church of Shady Side, 1320 Avalon Blvd., Shady Side. Free: 410-867-4777.

–Carrie Steele

Cycling into Trains

Each Christmas season, Tom Crockett unveils his 16-train model railroad at his shop, Tans Cycles Parts in North Beach. Here he constructs in his shop’s attic.

Late nights and wee hours find Tom Crockett, owner of Tans Cycles Parts in North Beach, tinkering, building, wiring, gluing, soldering, dreaming, designing and inventing. His muse? The model train. His childhood inspiration has ripened over the years into a mature and complex hobby.

Tans Cycles’ main floor makes an unlikely setting for a holiday train display. But this time of year, the Harley Davidson showcase — bikes, parts, equipment, clothing and souvenirs — makes room for 16 trains and their ever-developing layout.

In the real world, what Crockett has done is called sprawl.

He set up the first four-by-eight-foot display for his shop in 2000 with trains from his attic above the shop, where freestanding metal shelving holds hundreds of spare parts, wires, switches, original train boxes, lights, tiny motors and ideas for future additions.

This year, Tan’s train garden is bigger than ever. At 20-by-20-feet, it features 16 trains, each nine and a half to 14 feet long, on 16 separate tracks, plus a fork-lift that loads logs onto a train. The centerpiece is a disappearing train tunnel into which three trains enter but only two come out — until the straggler finally emerges from its mystery tour. The village also boasts two waterfalls, an airport, pond, skating resort and even a burning building with firefighters. Of course, there’s a motorcycle or two on the living room-sized display that’s a flurry of color, sound and texture.

In one of few train gardens where plastic windows don’t hold viewers back, Crockett has only had one accident. Excited by the display, a woman touched a train, causing the whole display to go awry.

He welcomes children, with viewing steps and a section of non-moving trains they can get their hands on. Special switches are in the works with parts that kids can operate.

Crockett has woven personal touches into his development, including streets named after family members and a barbershop with a 1947 photo of his grandfather, who used to run a barbershop in North Beach.

Since Crockett put his first train display together in 1957, when he was about 10 years old, he scouts for new ways to add moving parts or lights to catch the eye. Nowadays, he’ll wire in a motor or LED light from a DVD, CD or tape player that he’s scavenged from donations. Some 4,000 feet of wires keep his display chugging, blinking, whirling, splashing and moving on about 20 volts.

The villages, landscapes, waterfalls, bridges, tunnels and tracks spend their off-seasons upstairs in Crockett’s attic, where — when it’s not too hot to be upstairs — he fashions new ways to grow his tiny metropolis. He spent most of 2005 getting his new airport up and running.

Keeping his trains on schedule shares some of the challenges of full-size railroads. The tracks must be kept clean. “Some of this track is 50 years old or more, and the paper inside the track has disintegrated or corroded,” says Crockett, who not only displays Lionel trains but sells them as well.

His own display comes from a hodgepodge of sources: some he’s kept since childhood, some have been donated through the years by customers and some he picks up at train shows.

Just before opening on November 26, Crockett loaded his intricate creation onto an electric-powered pulley system, suspended by a metal beam hung on the ceiling. Using controls, he lowered the seven tables separately down below to his shop, where he slid them through his eight-foot-wide hallway into the showroom.

Look closely: The magic’s all in the details.

“There’s a lot to be seen,” says Crockett, who regularly points out details and additions to customers, including those who don’t see the coal miners — actually soldier figurines whose rifles are turned to picks — at work. “It takes you a while to see everything.”

Train display at Tans Cycles Parts thru New Year’s Day from 3-8pm Monday thru Friday; 2-5pm Saturday, 9032 Chesapeake Beach Ave., North Beach. Free: 410-257-6619.

–Carrie Steele

6,400 Hours in the Train Kitchen

A dozen volunteers put in more than 1,000 hours working on the Train Garden at Marley Station Mall each Tuesday since March.

Shopping malls at holiday season are like Grand Central Station at rush hour. At Marley Station Mall in Glen Burnie, you can break from the main mall to enjoy a miniature winter world — with no shopping.

Building the 14th Holiday Train Garden are volunteers from Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Pasadena. Of the dozen workers, eight core members each spent 800 hours — for a total of at least 6,400 hours — to construct the nine-train, four-level layout, dreamed up anew each year by Emmanuel Church parishioner Frank McDonald.

“They start first Tuesday in March,” says spokeswoman Sharon Busker. “They decide what they’re going to do. Then they tear down the existing train garden all the way down to the plywood and start from scratch. Each year it’s different.”

Every Tuesday night since that first March meeting, the engineers return to their workshop to tinker and tool the new display. A kaleidoscope of trains — Lionel, Williams, K-Line and MTH, including antique cars — weaves through winter wonderlands and valleys filled with towns.

Landscapers of mini-villages come in extra hours to wire the eight-by-24-foot layout of mountain towns and valley villages. Tracks continue through an airport, a fire-fighting scene, a construction site, playground, waterfall, amusement park, tunnels, bridges, trees and more. Tiny ice-skaters, set out on two separate tables, liven the winter scene.

Because little people especially like little trains, there’s a lowered viewing section for them.

Viewing is free, but donations will replenish the North County Emergency Outreach Network’s food bank and help keep them assisting North County people in need. Buy a raffle ticket ($1/each or $5/7) to try for a train garden of your own: a four-by-six-foot winter village, complete with new train and transformer — to be drawn on December 23.

Train Garden at Marley Station Mall runs thru December 31, 10am-9pm Monday thru Saturday; 11am-6pm Sunday at the old Friendly’s location, near Hecht’s on the second floor, Marley Station Mall, Glen Burnie. free, but donations welcome: 410-533-0823.

–Carrie Steele

Baking a Gingerbread Village

Hansel and Gretel won’t be the only ones tempted by gingerbread homes bedecked in gumdrops, candy canes, licorice, icing and cookies this season. Some 23 sucrose-inspired dwellings on display at Darnell’s Chance House and Museum lure everyone with sugar-coated art.

This year gingerbread architects young and old designed a Scottish castle, an African hut, Rapunzel’s tower, a lighthouse, a Dickens’ Christmas Carol house, Cinderella’s post-midnight castle, a teepee, a hollow log home, a train, a campground and more.

“The structure can be real or imaginary, but the main components, like the walls, must be gingerbread,” says Susan Reidy of Darnell’s Chance, who doesn’t limit gingerbread creations to houses. Last year a pirate ship and a sailboat joined the show. Most builders begin with a cardboard model, then using the pieces as patterns for their gingerbread. Royal icing is the glue that holds together castles and cottages alike. Everything must be edible.

Creations this year featured gum sticks for shingles, oregano for grass, Smarties for stepping stones, Chex for rooftops, beans for stones, cinnamon sticks for logs and more, including carefully applied icing.

The six-year-old contest is Reidy’s brainchild.

“I wanted to do something that was historic, old and that brought in the community,” says Reidy, whose first contest yielded a sugary replication of Darnell’s Chance House itself. “Everyone has candlelight house tours. I wanted to do something no one else did.”

Gingerbread’s historic role enticed Reidy to begin the annual event. It’s history, outlined within the exhibit, documents the first gingerbread in Europe in the 11th century. By the 17th century, gingerbread baking was a licensed profession, with exceptions only for major holidays. In Great Britain, a gingerbread legend promised that eating gingerbread men improved a woman’s chances for finding a husband. Fashioning houses with gingerbread became popular after the Brothers’ Grimm tale of Hansel and Gretel.

Continuing the tradition, each year Reidy puts out the call for gingerbread entries. She’s never made a gingerbread house herself. But she’s had plenty of experience with gingerbread and its architects.

“They’ll last till spring, until the humidity gets high, then they’ll collapse. Sometimes people spray them with acrylic,” says Reidy. Gingerbread comes in different shades of brown, depending on the molasses and the ingredients; some builders go so far as to dye their gingerbread.

Mary Elliott, of Timonium, won 2005’s first prize for Christmas Light, a lighthouse decked with crisp, exact squares glistening with metallic-colored icing, clear sugar windows and surrounded by blue-icing water, complete with a rowboat.

Taking the judges’ top prize in the child’s category was Michael Stevenson’s Boy Scout Camp, where gingerbread tents and outhouse sit near the pretzel-stick entryway, a crumbled-hard-candy campfire surrounded by caramel seats. Picnic bench, people and a tiny owl complete this model of the 11-year-old’s Boy Scout camp in Piscataway, Maryland.

Judges have already awarded ribbons to four winners in each age group, but you get to be the judge for the big prize.

“When visitors come, they will agonize for an hour,” says Reidy, over whom they’ll cast their vote for. “They take their job very seriously. It’s a tough job.” And well they should, because the winners of the viewer’s choice award — in both adult and child categories — pockets $375.

Visit Darnell’s Chance House & Museum to cast your vote for favorite gingerbread houses, on display noon-5pm daily thru December 11 at 14800 Governor Oden Bowie Dr. (take the Upper Marlboro exit off Rt. 4 North), Upper Marlboro. $1: 301-952-8010.

–Carrie Steele

Making Merry in the Bass Clef

Christmas booms in Solomons as two dozen tubas join others around the world for TUBACHRISTMAS.

In Calvert, Christmas doesn’t come ringing in with jingle bells and tinkling flutes. It comes brazenly booming in with four-part tuba harmony, at the Solomons’ Fourth Annual TUBACHRISTMAS concert. On December 18, some two dozen tubas and euphoniums (smaller versions of the tuba) blow seasonal tunes and carols in their warm and rich sounds. Then you join in and sing along.

“It’s wonderful. The best way to describe it is really a rich organ-like sound,” says TubaChristmas coordinator for Solomons, Bill White. “It’s not super loud, but it’s really powerful.”

Tubas, White explains, are similar to other brass instruments and can play a range from very low notes to just above middle C on the piano. For TubaChristmas, those voices mingle in four-part harmony. But they’ve got to keep their distance.

“If the harmonies get too close, it sounds like a twin engine plane,” says White of the low frequencies.

The tubists only have one rehearsal — an hour before the concert — and White wonders if early concert-goers can hear their sounds even with the practice room doors closed. Musicians can manage such a tight squeeze because they know their music, as it’s standard Christmas tuba fare by Alec Wilder, who arranged some 30 Christmas carols and songs for tuba choirs nationwide. Wilder’s score keeps tubas and euphoniums singing at their distances on the musical score.

This tuba concert is one of many such shows worldwide, all begun by American tuba artist and teacher Harvey Phillips in 1974 to honor his teacher and mentor, William Bell, who was born on Christmas Day, 1902. Since that first concert in 1974 at the Rockefeller Plaza Ice Rink in New York City, tubas have been piping in bass tunes for holidays all around the world, including 180 cities in the United States. In Maryland, tubas will sound off in Baltimore, Frederick and Solomons.

Coming to Solomons to blend their three-octave-range tuba voices are players from as close as southern Maryland and as far as Florida.

That’s a long way to carry such mammoth instruments.

“It is kind of a problem sometimes,” White allows. We used to practice on the third floor of Calvert Marine Museum. The logistics of moving all the tubas from the third to first floor was a lot. Moving through a stairwell or through an elevator is cumbersome.”

This year, musicians will join on Calvert Marine Museum’s first floor, under the direction of Richard Smucker, a musical therapist from Lusby, to blend their instruments’ elephantine voices in elegantly rich sounds for your holiday merriment.

Hear TUBACHRISTMAS December 18 at 3:30pm at Calvert Marine Museum in Solomons. free: 410-326-2042. Tuba players find out how to join in this year at www.tubachristmas.com.

–Carrie Steele

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