This is the year to catch up on a 30-year-old tradition.
Juneau Lyric Opera’s annual Midwinter Vocal Festival closes with a concert at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall, Sunday Jan. 6, and it will feature highlights from the past three decades of festivals. The festival runs in late December and early January — this year Dec. 28-Jan.5 — and is an excursion of singing workshops and classes that closes with a concert.
“I think people are really going to enjoy the concert,” said Lena Simmons, who has been involved in every Midwinter Vocal Festival. “We’ll sing some classical but also some Broadway-type things.”
Simmons said the festival has grown significantly over the decades.
When it started, there were about 23 participants, Simmons said. Now, there are typically about 50 singers.
“The 23 of us didn’t know what we were doing,” Simmons said.
Back then, the first end-of-festival performance included just one piece by Mozart and one by Schubert.
“We’ve got eight or nine pieces this year.” Simmons said. “We can do more, and we come together faster,”
The festival has had the same director for the past 30 years, Byron McGilvray, a resident of Athens, Texas, renowned conductor and retired music professor.
McGilvray, former head of the vocal division of San Francisco State University, said he became involved in the annual event after he was approached by Juneauites at a fine arts festival in Fairbanks. They were interested in starting a winter music festival.
“I said, ‘Sure we’ll come,’” McGilvray said. “That’s the way it all started.”
Pianist Janis Capelle, joined him for the initial festival and over the years has been involved in “at least half” of the 30 festivals with some time off in between the festivals’ earliest and more recent years.
They said they had no idea it would turn into a 30-year tradition when it started, but watching the can-do gumption in Juneau coupled with artistic growth cultivate accomplished artists has been fulfilling over the years.
“That’s the part that’s most rewarding,” McGilvray said. “It’s grown so tremendously, and we’ve done so many different kind of things.”
The history also leads to a level of familiarity.
“I’m teaching the children of those I’ve taught,” McGilvray said.
Before a festival class focused on the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and his sons Friday night, McGilvray greeted participants warmly and generally by name.
Capelle and McGilvray said while the long relationships are nice, but the existing history shouldn’t intimidate those who haven’t participated in past year’s from registering for Festival 31’s events next year.
Part of the reason, McGilvray and Capelle said folks should not be intimidated is their deep-rooted belief everyone can sing.
“I’ve never met anyone who can’t sing,” Capelle said. “Make a joyful noise. There are a lot of ways to hear joy in a voice.”
McGilvray said anyone who puts in the time to coordinate their voice and ears can sing.
“They can do it,” McGilvray said. “People need to participate in these types of activities. There’s something about singing with other people that feeds the spirit. You get a glimpse into greatness.”
The greatest hits
The set list for the Sunday concert includes nine pieces plus a handful of solo performances.
Picking favorites from the list was tough for Simmons and McGilvray.
“If you ask a composer what their favorite piece is, they’ll say the one they’re working on, McGilvray said.
Simmons said “Jabberwocky” a musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem is a lot of fun.
McGilvray said he’slooking forward to more serious selections such as Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum,” which he said is an extraordinarily emotional piece.
The song “Sing Me to Heaven” written by Daniel Gawthrop with lyrics by Jane Griner was also tabbed by McGilvray as a highlight.
“It’s really a very poignant thing,” McGilvray said.
Know & Go
What: Juneau Lyric Opera’s Midwinter Vocal Festival Final Concert
When: 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 6.
Where: Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall, 320 W. Willoughby Ave.
Admission: $15 for adults and $10 for seniors and students. Children younger than 10 will be admitted for free. Tickets are available at Hearthside Books, Juneau Arts & Culture Center, at the door and at juneauopera.org.
• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.