By M.L. RANTALA
Classical Music Critic
Thanks to the Music Teachers of Hyde Park, my final before-Christmas event this year was right in our neighborhood: the holiday recital in the Artist Series of concerts offered to the community for free by the MTHP.
The concert drew young and old alike to some of the staples of the season: holiday music, familiar as well as new; a carol sing-along; and a wide array of delicious Christmas cookies.
The large basement room of the Blackstone Library was nearly full last Wednesday night before the concert began, with folks of all ages selecting a cookie or two before they sat down in front of the small yet imposing grand piano as well as a smallish yet festive Christmas tree.
Several music teachers were on hand to perform for their neighbors (and perhaps prospective students), beginning with Mary Jo Armstrong on the piano. She kicked things off with the French folk melody “Ding Dong! Merrily on High!” in an arrangement by Kevin Olson that had lots of attractive classical music touches. Armstrong drew out bell-like tones as she ranged easily over the entire keyboard.
She followed this up with “There’s No Place Like Home for the Holidays,” in a swing arrangement by Edwin McLean. There were lots of pleasing moments of syncopation and dance-like glee. Armstrong’s anchoring left hand was particularly impressive.
Then a threesome took over. The trio of Ida Claude (violin), Irene Claude (flute), and Hope Rogers (piano) played a trio of well-known holiday tunes. There was lots of gentle airiness from the flute for “Away in a Manger,” and that was joined with sweetness from the violin and a steady beat from the piano.
The three women then offered a splendid rendition of “Jingle Bells” in the classical tradition of theme and variations. The charming arrangement they selected opened with a diversionary introduction before giving way to the familiar strains so well known at Christmas-time. The variations were short and snappy, and showed some jazz influences.
“Still, Still, Still” and “Silent Night” were combined in a lush, neo-romantic style by Cindy Berry. The music was majestic with the piano offering a particularly stately rendition.
Carlos Schwartz performed a quartet of arrangements of children’s songs from his native Venezuela. “Niño Lindo” (“Nice Kid”) was animated and featured pleasing work for the right hand on the upper keyboard. “La Jornada” (“The Journey”) had fascinating rhythmic shifts and moved engagingly all over the 88 keys.
“Corre Caballito” (“Run Little Horse”) was perky and had the energy and charm of a young colt. “Cantemos, Cantemos” (“Let’s Sing!”) was a short, joyful number with big sound and no shortage of enthusiasm.
Mary Jo Armstrong then returned to the piano along with Dhilanti Fernando to perform holiday music for piano four-hands. The two of them worked well together, a vital component for such duets as some composers and some arrangers can make it a competition for the two players to find enough real estate on the bench and on the keyboard to get their part heard. These women had that down and dived immediately into “Over the River,” a new arrangement of a classic that had lots of movement and fun.
“Do You Hear What I Hear?” featured the right combination of worry and joy, while “Gesu Bambino” had enchantment.
They closed their portion of the concert with another arrangement of “Jingle Bells” and this rendition of the J. Pierpont classic had the audience tapping their feet.
Dhilanti Fernando then passed out a sheet with lyrics from over a dozen Christmas carols and told the audience that they could choose which ones they would all sing. Each song was numbered and for a moment you might have thought you were in a classroom where everyone was shouting out the answer to an arithmetic problem. “One!” said a little boy sitting behind me, while other numbers were called out all around me.
Fernando presided with aplomb, finding a way to satisfy everyone, if not all at the same time. She led the singing from the piano, where she played with authority and had selected arrangements of the carols that made it easy for the audience to follow and sing along.
She added her own flourish to “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and had the audience do choruses for Hanukah and Kwanzaa.
The concert went by in a flash and I had a chance to then mingle with the audience, including parents and children. There was happiness and peace in the air, and neighbors walked out into the cold Hyde Park winter with a spring in their step and a merry tune in their heart.
Audra Wilson, one of the Music Teachers of Hyde Park, helped to organize the concert and introduced the performers. I remember fondly her endearing performance of some of Vince Guaraldi’s jazz compositions for “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” in a holiday concert of Christmas Past for the MTHP.
The Music Teachers of Hyde Park (MTHP) is an alliance of independent private music teachers serving Hyde Park, Kenwood, and South Shore. The group sponsors many events throughout the year that give its students opportunities to perform and learn, including recitals and workshops.
The next MTHP concert is Wed., Jan. 15 at 6:30 p.m. Entitled “A Musical Potpourri,” it will feature a wide variety of music performed by multiple members of the MTHP. To learn more about the free MTHP concerts at the Blackstone Library, or to find a music teacher, visit MTHP.org.