On Sunday, December 14, the Peaks Island Winter Concert will mark its 22nd year of celebrating not only the holiday season, but the spirit of diversity that thrives on this Casco Bay Island.
According to Nancy 3. Hoffman, the concert’s director (whose middle name, “3.” is correctly noted), “multi-denominational” performances promise the audience a little Christmas, a little Hanukah, and a dash of the Solstice to mix things up.
Two performances, at 2:15 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. on Dec. 14, will be held at the Brackett Memorial United Methodist Church, a 10-minute walk from the ferry landing.
“Our concert has been compared with the Prairie Home Companion Show,” describes Hoffman, “One minute we’ll be entertained by a Renaissance song, and then someone will sing a funny song or a seemingly serious story with an unexpectedly riotous finish.”
In the month of December, annual celebrations mean song and dance as well as hot chocolate and Santa on each island and down the coast. Each one celebration strives to entertain with something special – in Freeport, a talking tree jokes with shoppers, while in Kennebunkport the life-size lobsters gladly stop flailing their claws for personalized photo ops. In Rockland last year, a pancake breakfast at the foot of a 34-foot lobster-trap tree was just one highlight of their festival – and the Chamber of Commerce is closely guarding the height plan for this year’s lobster-trap tree.
If every waterfront community has its own way of celebrating the season, on Peaks Island, their annual Winter Concert is unique for being both international and irreverent, pulling the artistically gifted out of their homes and onto the stage.
This December’s concert on Peaks will feature the Casco Bay Tummlers, who will be performing Klezmer music: Eastern European folk music performed by a group that gets its name from the original social directors who entertained guests at the old Jewish resorts in the Catskills.
Another act celebrating the international is the Maine Squeeze, an accordion ensemble that will sing Polish songs. Then there’s the Peaks Island Chorale, an island group of singers who this year are planning to sing “Caudete,” an upbeat Spanish carol (listen for the clear young voice of just-turned-12-year-old Daisy Brown) and a song written by the Chorale’s director, Faith York, entitled “Grant Us Peace.”
“I look to do something traditional and classical, as well as something that adds other traditions to the performance,” explains York.
The audience will be invited to sing along, with traditional hymns available in the pews. Dancing to the Klezmer music is also encouraged. And at the end, tradition dictates that all rise and sing Handel’s “Hallelujah” (apparently at this point in the concert, the mood is sufficiently festive for a room full of people to loudly sing a song where only a handful of words are universally known).
The diversity of performers at this annual event is legendary-the mandolin players and the witty singing group “Uncalled Four” are fondly remembered, along with the “Mando Commando” and the fellow who built his own harpsichord and developed an act explaining the instrument. “At the Peak’s Island Winter concert, often it’s a surprise who’s performing from one year to the next,” says Kay Taylor, a bilingual island resident who one year sang “Silent Night” in Spanish. “Our concert means tradition and tradition is what holidays are all about.”
The Peaks Island Concert draws together a diverse community by celebrating that very quality. “There happens to be a lot of talent here,” says concert director Hoffman. “We’ve just been able to rouse it, getting people to share their gifts and give back to their community.”
Annie O’Brien, children’s book illustrator, writer and performer, agrees. A soloist this year, she performs to get to know her neighbors better. “This concert showcases the delightful originality of our community,” she says. “Participating and watching your neighbors perform connects you with one another.”
A donation of $5 is recommended. Bring your spirit of tolerance and your sense of humor.