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Civic Chorus goes bluegrass

Williamsport Civic Chorus to present ‘The World Beloved’

November 13, 2011
By APRIL LINE - Sun-Gazette Correspondent , Williamsport Sun-Gazette

Why get excited about a Mass? Bluegrass, that's why.

During its 68th season, The Williamsport Civic Chorus will present a short mass, interspersed with bluegrass ballads, at 3 p.m. Nov. 20 at St. Mark Lutheran Church, 142 N. Market St.

The piece is called "The World Beloved" by Carol Barnett and, according to Ned Wetherald, the WCC's director, "Even though the piece is constructed around the traditional texts of the Mass, I really don't consider it to be a Mass because it strays pretty far from traditional texts."

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The Williamsport Civic Chorus will present “The World Beloved” at 3 p.m. Nov. 20 at St. Mark Lutheran Church, 142 N. Market St.

Wetherald is the director of the music ministry at State College Presbyterian church.

He drives to Williamsport once a week to conduct the chorus. His passion for the work shows in the dedication of the chorus members and the chorus' rich evolution.

Wetherald has been conducting the WCC since the late '90s and said that he chose the bluegrass Mass because he "liked the idea of combining serious classical music with serious folk music and saw the possibilities to build a concert around the work."

Deb Buckman, patron chairman and publicity director for WCC, said that in the ballads between the traditional pieces of Mass, there are bits of narrative detailing the beginning of the world, and that she thinks Barnett (the composer) is asking questions that wrestle with faith.

The bluegrass band that will join the choir for the concert is made up of local musicians Karl Fisher, owner of Alabaster Coffee Roaster and Tea Room; Tim Breon, founder of the Uptown Music Collective; Chris Wheeland, graduate of Susquehanna and Bucknell universities; John Welshans, a master of the five-string banjo and dobro, and is presently playing the pedal steel guitar; and Kate Johnston.

"The World Beloved" runs about 30 minutes.

The chorus will perform and then the bluegrass band will give its own concert.

WCC is unique in that it does not hold auditions. Its motto is "Music for the people, by the people."

The chorus is made up of people who love to sing and while the rehearsals are held at a church - and the director is a pastor - the choir is secular.

Anyone can join WCC. There are dues of $35 and a dress code, but buying the music is optional and, according to Buckman, there are gowns available for loan. Men wear a dark suit or tuxedo.

For Buckman, the chorus is a family affair. She participates with her husband and her son.

The WCC has been busy since Wetherald took over more than a decade ago, and the performances have run the gamut from classic compositions and Masses by the likes of Haydn and Bach to "The Pirates of Penzance."

The choir also has partnered with a number of nonprofits and charities, giving concerts to raise money for Habitat for Humanity and The Lundy Breast Health Center. It also has given a concert in honor of National Poetry Month.

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