Arts Around Town

Arts Around Town: First Berks Choir Games provides showcase of local choral groups

Choral music is filling the air in Reading through Saturday, and if you love "Glee," "The Sing Off," opera or gospel, there's likely to be a choir for you. Welcome to the Berks Choir Games, an event that's a first in the celebration of choral music presented by the Reading Choral Society. Participants include local middle and high schools, community and church choirs.

The Berks Choir Games kicked off Thursday morning at the GoggleWorks movie theater with a performance by the Pretzel City Barber Shop Quartet featuring the Vocal Standard Quartet. A preview concert featuring the debut of the Reading Choral Society Chamber Choir and soloist Toni Marie Palmertree will be held Friday at 8 p.m., at the WCR Center for the Arts, 140 N. Fifth St.

A culmination of choir music will be featured in a finale concert on Saturday at 7:30 p.m., at the Miller Center for the Arts, 4 N. Second St. The program includes the Reading Choral Society, DOXA Gospel Vocal Ensemble, Reading High School Choir, Berks Opera Workshop, and featured choir, UPenn Glee Club.

Alexandra Booth, president of the Reading Choral Society, brought brainstorming to the table in July 2012, when she returned from visiting the World Choir Games in Cincinnati, recognized as the "Olympics of Choral Music." It was the first time the United States hosted the event which attracted 362 choirs from 64 countries and 15,000 participants.

"This was a type of festival I knew our county would enjoy," said Booth, who's also a music teacher in the Reading School District. "We have diverse groups here and in surrounding communities, and how wonderful for people to be able to experience such a showcase of choral music."

On Saturday, the first Berks Choir Games Choral Expo at the Schmidt Center at Reading Area Community College will showcase the many diverse choral ensembles and organizations within and surrounding the county. The free event, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., will offer information on audition opportunities, community events and concert schedules for the upcoming season.

Also on Saturday will be a free viewing of the BBC documentary, "History of Sacred Music," exploring the development of Sacred Choral Music from, according to its description, "the Gothic Revolution through Palestrina and the Popes." It's happening 10 a.m., at the GoggleWorks movie theater.

A free vocal/choral master class at 10 a.m., at the Miller Center will have participating choirs experience a workshop model as they present, receive critique, and work on choral technique for chosen repertoire. Presenter will be Peter Hopkins, music director of the Reading Choral Society. At 1:30 p.m., an Adjudication Round will feature mixed choirs and an exhibition presentation by the Berks Youth Chorus. Participating choirs in Saturday events also include the Boyertown Junior High School West – Select Choir, Holy Guardian Angels Choir, and Glad Tidings Assembly of God Mass Choir.

Booth said the Reading Choral Society, founded in 1875, is one of America's oldest musical ensembles. While continuing the tradition of programming choral masterworks, it has expanded its repertory to include the more frequent performance and commissioning of new music and the exploration of more "popular" literature, such as folksong, spirituals and musical theater. Its educational programs encompass regular performances with invited local high school and college choirs and continuing collaborations with the Berks Classical Children's Chorus.

Next year will mark the Reading Choral Society's 139th season, which will kick off with a community summer sing and workshop, a fall program of folk music from around the world, and a spring program featuring Brahms' "Requiem," Booth said.

And there's even a date of May 9, 2015 for the second annual Berks Choir Games.

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The Forks Area Art Society is undertaking its first major event on Saturday with "Art in the Park, Amp Up the Art" from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., near the amphitheater at the Forks Township Community Center, 500 Zucksville Rd. Rain date is Sunday.

Artists from the Society, as well as local artists and crafters, will be exhibiting and demonstrating their work, including a woodturning demonstration. Entertainment will include music by the GT3 Band, birds of Hawk Mountain, a kids corner, and food.

According to Penny Hochella, society president, "The theme of Art in the Park is to have fun with art and creativity, as well as to promote awareness of the society and foster relationship with the community."

Hochella, of Martins Creek, specializes in wildlife and pet portraits. She teaches mixed media at Northampton Community College.

The Forks Area Art Society, now in its fourth year, meets the second Wednesday of the month and holds live demonstrations at the Forks Township Recreation House, 708 Zucksville Rd.

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Local art students from grades 7-12 have been recognized as national winners in the 2014 Scholastic Art & Writing Awards. Recipients of the 2014 national medals from the East Central Pennsylvania Scholastic Affiliate are: gold – Heather Koeler of Emmaus High School; Zoe Frey of William Allen High School; Noor Jamshed of Southern Lehigh Middle School; silver – Nicholas Capri, Shannon McGowen and Mara Ruzick-Butz of Emmaus High School; Dylan Lafferty and Cassandra Smith of Parkland High School; Winson Phu of Dieruff High School, and Bria Pickel of Lehigh Valley Charter School for the Arts.

Jared Parker of Nazareth Area High School was bestowed the National American Visions Medal.

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Touchstone Theatre, 321 E. Fourth St., Bethlehem, presents its ninth Young Playwrights' Festival on Saturday at the Zoellner Arts Center's Baker Hall at Lehigh University. A showcase of original plays by local elementary and middle school students will be presented.

Throughout the season, Touchstone's teaching artists have been working with students in the Bethlehem Area and Allentown school districts in afterschool arts-in-education programming. The flagship program, "Young Playwrights' Lab," is an eight-week residency developed by Touchstone and the Bethlehem Area School District to improve attitudes toward literacy and achievement in academic standards by linking literacy and creative self-expression. Students engage in theater improvisation and writing exercises, leading to each student composing his or her original one-act play. One play from each participating school is selected for the festival and performed by Touchstone actors, local performers and students from their own schools.

A gala dessert reception and auction will follow at the Lehigh Art Galleries.

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In honor of Children's Book Week, best-selling author John Grogan of "Marley & Me" will host a special story time on Saturday at 11 a.m., at Let's Play Books! children's bookstore, 379 Main St., Emmaus. The event is free; space is limited.

Following Grogan will be "A Critter & A Story" at 2 p.m., with the Wildlands Conservancy. The program is designed for ages 4 and up.

A Book Launch on Tuesday at 6 p.m. will feature Paul Acampora's new middle-grade book, "I Kill the Mockingbird."

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Fifty-five advanced student musicians from high schools in Berks, Carbon, Lehigh, Monroe, Northampton, Pike and Schuylkill counties will play "side-by-side" with musicians from the Allentown Band on Sunday at 7:30 p.m., at Miller Symphony Hall in Allentown. The ninth annual Side-by-Side Concert will have conducting duties shared by Allentown Band's Dr. Ronald Demkee and guest conductor and Souderton native, Dr. Donald Hunsberger, Conductor Emeritus of the famed Eastman (School of Music) Wind Ensemble.

Participating schools and directors are: Bangor Area High School, Eric Hahn; Bethlehem Catholic High School, Cristin Eick; East Stroudsburg High School – North, Paul Bakner; East Stroudsburg High School – South, Katye Clogg; Easton Area High School, Carole Lutte; Freedom High School, Michael Moran; Liberty High School, Kevin Long; Lehigh Valley Charter High School for the Arts, Andrew Bauer; Marion Catholic High School, Michael Brimmer; Parkland High School, Jason Lerew; Pottsville Area High School, Craig Shoener; Southern Lehigh High School, Douglas Bolasky; Williams Valley High School, Keith Gromis, and Wilson Area High School, Jonathan Freidhoff.

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Accomplished Philadelphia expressionist Helen Mirkil reveals her passion for life through intimate landscapes in the exhibit, "Passionate Gesture," through May 28 at Santa Bannon Fine Art Gallery at the ArtsQuest Banana Factory, 25 W. Third St., Bethlehem.

Mirkil has taught at Ursinus College and is a gifted poet. Her paintings, drawings and sculptures can be found at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, the James A. Michener Art Museum, and the Berman Museum of Art.

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