Visitors to the Folger have long been used to seeing actors and musicians on stage demonstrating their talents through words, song, and movement. What’s less usual is an opportunity to learn how these artists prepare to go on, and rarer still is the chance to join in the theatrical magic, and that is exactly what was offered to patrons on Saturday, December 10th when Folger Consort presented the first of three free Community Sing events at the Folger.
Musicians Robert Eisenstein, Daniel Meyers and Brian Kay and soprano Emily Noël led over 85 guests in a series of physical and vocal exercises designed to warm up the body and open up the voice. These exercises ranged from simple stretches to melodic scales to bring a variety of voices into sociable harmony.
These exercises were prelude to learning the medieval carols in The Second Shepherds’ Play. Participants were given lyric sheets with excerpts from four of the songs performed as part of this yuletide medieval mystery play: Nova, nova: ‘Ave’ fit ex ‘Eva’; Nowell, nowell, Greensleeves; Somerset Wassail. Eisenstein, the Consort’s co-Artistic Director, provided a bit of historical background for each song before playing it with his fellow musicians and then taking the community of singers through it line by line.
Don’t let some of the seemingly simple lyrics fool you–there’s a lot more to performing these songs than just the words! For Nowell, nowell, which helps re-start the action of the play after the intermission, the musicians led the group in creating a harmonic round, with two distinct melodies joining as one.
From the smiles on people’s faces, it was clear that there is still much joy to be found in singing these medieval tunes, but there are benefits to singing beyond a fun winter afternoon out. It’s also great for the brain, as explained in this Time magazine article. And, while singing in general has great benefits, communal singing in particular is a wonderful way to feel connected to the people around you: “Group singing, for those who have done it, is the most exhilarating and transformative of all. It takes something incredibly intimate, a sound that begins inside you, shares it with a roomful of people and it comes back as something even more thrilling: harmony.”
The harmony created at the Folger got its chance to shine in the matinee performance of The Second Shepherds’ Play, when those who had attended the Community Sing were encouraged to lend their voices to the performance and sing along to the songs they had learned earlier, connecting the actors on stage to the audience off in a perfect example of seasonal unity. Says Consort Manager Jennifer Bowman.”It’s very gratifying to see people from all walks of life, all ages, come together for the common purpose of singing.”
Ready to lend your voice to the carols of The Second Shepherds’ Play? Community Sing returns on December 17 at 1pm and December 19 at 6:30pm. You can reserve your spot for this free event by calling the box office at 202.544.7077 or going online. If you are feeling peckish, the British food truck Sixes and Sevens will have delicious English comfort food available for purchase in front of the theater during both sessions. Plan to come early to partake!