Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

It's the most musical time of the year...

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From a purely musical standpoint, you have to love this time of year. Arts groups pull out all the stops, performing traditional holiday favourites and serenading us with some very old and some brand-new works, as well.

Nothing enriches the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanza season quite the way music can.

This weekend, there are two special (and quite different) holiday concerts that will help get you into that holiday frame of mind.

Winter Harp makes its annual appearance at the Pantages Theatre on Friday at 7:30 p.m. This is a highly romantic take on Christmas, combining instrumentals, singing and narration enhanced by an intricate faux cathedral backdrop.

"I'm a very visual person," Winter Harp director Lori Pappajohn says from Vancouver. "To me it has to look beautiful. The backdrop looks so real -- it looks like 3-D -- that people come up after the show to touch it."

Pappajohn and poet Alan Woodland came up with the Winter Harp concept nearly two decades ago. "We did it for fun," she says. "We performed for about 120 people in someone's living room. They loved it. The next year we moved to a church and it was sold out."

The charm of Winter Harp is the spell it weaves, with performers in period costumes designed by Pappajohn herself. "I look at Pre-Raphaelite paintings and choose parts -- a sleeve from here, a collar from there. We have a bridal costumier who makes them."

Further authenticity comes from the medieval instruments played. "Who has heard or seen a bass psaltery before?" says Pappajohn.

Winter Harp has maintained many of the same musicians over the years. This year's group consists of Manitoba's own Janelle Nadeau, Celtic harp and voice; Esther Cannon, classical pedal harp and voice; Lauri Lyster, percussion and voice; Jeff Pelletier, winds; Joaquin Ayala, nyckelharpa, bass psaltery, symphonie and organistrum; Caroline Markos, voice; and Pappajohn herself on Celtic harp and voice. Andy Toth provides short narrations.

The playlist for the evening includes many familiar carols and some interesting departures. "We have a flamenco piece called Bullfighter's Daughter," says Pappajohn, "and Christmas Comes but Once a Year, an Irish piece that is lots of fun."

"It takes people back in their memories. Memories are powerful... we see people crying. It's a combination of laughter and sorrow. People say that coming to our concert has changed their lives. It opens doors and they go through them."

Tickets to Winter Harp are $40 and are available at the door or by calling 1-866-656-6838.

-- -- --

Derek Morphy is a Manitoba institution. A gifted singer, inspiring conductor and teacher in Winnipeg and Brandon, he arrived in Canada from his native England in 1967. He will be conducting his final two performances with a cappella vocal ensemble Renaissance Voices on Friday and Saturday at Young United Church, 222 Furby St.

The 29-member group's annual advent concerts are appealingly atmospheric, offering candlelit café-style seating complete with plates of cheese, crackers and fruit along with piping-hot mulled wine or non-alcoholic cider. You'll feel as if you're at a friend's home for the evening.

The concerts, entitled Make We Merry will provide a mélange of holiday music, including well-known carols, spirituals, folk songs and early music.

"This is a celebration of what we've done over the 16 years," the hearty, 70-year-old Morphy says in a telephone interview. "The repertoire is a mixture of my all-time favourites that I wanted to do one more time with the group. It is a performance of advent and Christmas music."

Winnipeg soprano Rosemarie van der Hooft will join the ensemble as soloist in three works, Lully, lulla, Thou Little Tiny Child, Jesus Christ, the Apple Tree and John Rutter's arrangement of I Wonder as I Wander. Morphy was especially enthusiastic about a fun version of The Twelve Days of Christmas originally written for the King's Singers, which he says has lots of musical jokes.

What's in store for Morphy once he puts down the baton? "I still have musical activities in my life, St. Andrew's River Heights United Church choir, festival adjudicating, supervising student choral music teachers," he says. "I am looking forward to clearing some of the clutter in my life and I hope to have more energy and time to spend with family activities, as well as things like going for more walks or reading more -- just stuff."

The future of the Renaissance Voices is unclear, as they only recently received the news of Morphy's retirement.

The advent concerts sell out every year and seating in the sanctuary is limited. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. for the 8 p.m. start. Tickets are $20, $10 for students, and are available at McNally Robinson Booksellers or at the door.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 1, 2011 D5

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