Last Saturday, the Windham Performing Arts Center in Windham was packed for two sold out shows of the Windham Chamber Singers An American Family Holiday concert. The chamber singers, under the direction of Richard Nickerson, hosts the AmFam concert yearly. The concert ushers in the holiday season in Windham and Raymond and features not only the chamber singers, but also world renowned artists and performers.
This year Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary fame took top billing. Stookey did not disappoint his fans. At 77 years old, he still loves the stage and performing for audiences, often stopping to tell stories or involving the crowd in the singing of his songs.
His gravelly voice and unique scene of rhythmic timing stamped his personal style on O Holy Night, which is a song that is always performed at AmFam by the guest performers and the chamber singers.
One of the highlights for many was when Stookey had everyone help him sing “Puff the Magic Dragon” which was made famous by the trio in 1963. He was accompanied by his friend and musical director Michael McInnis.
“Technology in its vastness means there’s something to be said for the simplicity of things,” Stookey told the audience.
Year after year the audience is treated to favorite songs and new tunes destined to become favorites.
“It’s fantastic. There’s always something new, and some continue every year and that I enjoy,” said Dr. Sister Marilyn Sunderman from Sister of Mercy. “I love every year that the Strange’s come up from Florida. The performers have won numerous awards, nationally and internationally. Who would think it in a little town like Windham, Maine?” The chamber singers have consistent quality regardless of how many years have gone by, she added.
Windham High School graduate and pianist Dan Strange and his wife, violinist Ashley Liberty return every year to delight fans. They keep the show fresh and exciting. This year, host Kim Block from Channel 13, announced for the couple that they are expecting a baby, due in May.
For MaryEllen Doherty and Kathy Buxton, this show was their third and fourth shows respectively. “I started coming because a colleague’s daughter was a chamber singer. It’s a new tradition,” said Doherty.
“I love the show. We’re so fortunate to have so much talent in such a small town,” said Ben Jordan.
While Strange played “The Christmas Song” solo on piano, it was if the audience took a deep, collective Christmas breath as the notes washed over them.
The compliments rolled in from everyone in the audience about the amazing quality. Walter Braley and his wife Nina sat in the front row for the first time and were impressed at what the action looked like close up. “When you’re deaf it’s better,” Braley said with a laugh.
Tickets go on sale on the first of October for next year’s show, so mark a calendar. These shows rival any big stage production and will put families in the holiday spirit.