Friday, December 9, 2016

American Family Holiday concert sparkles with cheer - By Michelle Libby

The Windham Chamber Singers have done it again. They ushered in the holiday season with upbeat holiday numbers, spiritual Christmas music, original compositions and a jazzy special guest performer. 
For two shows last Saturday, the chamber singers entertained packed houses with locals and those from outside the district to spread their traditional holiday cheer. This year’s headliner was Broadway performer Lindsay Mendez. With her jazz roots, she gave the audience new Christmas music to savor and toe tapping excitement. Her version of “Sleigh Ride” demonstrated her vocal range and style, unlike anything the audience had heard in recent memory. It was no surprise that she was cast as Elphaba in the Broadway musical Wicked. She was animated and entertaining, drawing even people in the back row into her magical sounds. 

In addition of Mendez, Windham High School graduate and talented pianist Daniel Strange returned to his alma mater to rule the stage from the newly reprised opening number “The Best Day of the Year!” to his tribute to Jerry Lee Lewis and all of the background music, he rocked the stage. 

“They sound awesome,” said former chamber singer David Pride. “I like the old chamber music where you can hear the tone. It brings back a lot of memories.”

His wife, Erin, agreed. “I like seeing the talent every year, year after year.” To have the consistent talent is a testament to the director, Dr. Richard Nickerson. 

The chamber singers had three costume changes, adding in period clothing for the more traditional songs, before changing into their red and green sweaters and scarves.
Noticeably absent was Strange’s wife, violinist Ashley Liberty, who couldn’t attend this year after the birth of her second child.

“Let’s get this out of the way?” Strange said addressing the audience. “You want to know where the blond violinist is.” Before he flew to Maine from Florida where he is a professor, Liberty asked him 
“What are you going to do without me?” His answer was, “Honey, this was my town before it was yours.”
Strange brought the audience to its feet with his amazing rendition of Jingle Bells that kept his fingers flying over the keys. One audience member said, “He deserves a hand massage after that performance.” This was the perfect opportunity to show off his skills and talent, which sometimes is hidden behind other performers. Not that night.

The Am Fam family, as the performers are known, extends into the audience. Year after year the community supports the concert and becomes a part of the musicians’ lives. The bass player and drummer were also alumni of Windham High School class of 1999s Adam Frederick and class of 2000s Any Robbins.

Sheriff Kevin Joyce attended the concert for the first time with his wife. “Every year it comes and goes and we miss it. It’s wonderful. We’ll come back,” he said.
Kim Block from Channel 13 returned for the 13th year as master of ceremonies. She also did the traditional reading of “Charlie Brown’s Christmas.”

Who wouldn’t want Kim Block to read to them? Dr. Nickerson pointed out that there are very few places that you can hear the live soundtrack to “Charlie Brown’s Christmas” complements of Daniel Strange.

Back for the third year, Mervin and Barbara Weimer from South Portland were excited about the quality of the performance. Every year they rush to get tickets as soon as they are on sale.
One more surprise was that WHS 2014 graduate Matthew Scala returned to do a duet with Mendez. The upbeat song “I Got All I Need (This Christmas)” which is destined to be a new favorite on Christmas playlists all over the region.
“It’s a wonderful concert. I think Dr. Nickerson is fantastic with those kids. You can tell they love him. He’s so enthusiastic,” said Elaine Spiller from Standish. “They’re almost like professionals.” She said she has attended many performances at Merrill Auditorium and this one is just as good.
This year’s concert is over, but don’t miss out on the Windham Christmas tradition when tickets go on sale at the beginning of October 2017.

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