Newcomers to the Outer Cape often ask year-rounders, “Don’t you get bored in the winter?” The answer is often no, because of all the volunteer groups and homegrown music, art, and theater ensembles that can keep your schedule full.
You don’t have a be a pro. Take the Outer Cape Chorale (OCC), which has been under the musical direction of Allison Beavan since 2016 (it was founded in 2002 by Jon Arterton). There are no auditions — the OCC welcomes all (this writer has been a member since 2007).
The group will perform its Christmas program this weekend at Provincetown Town Hall and Nauset Regional Middle School. The concert, “Magnificent Magnificats,” includes magnificats (liturgical songs about the Virgin Mary) by J.S. Bach, John Rutter, and Marco Frisina; excerpts from Handel’s Messiah; and, to lighten things up a bit, Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of “Deck the Hall.” The Chamber Singers, a group within the group, will sing at least one song a cappella.
Beavan chooses the program ambitiously, opting for originality over tonal clichés. And accompanist Arthur McManus is right there with her, evincing a humorous, Muppet-like aura and treating the group to off-the-cuff piano interludes whenever it stumbles on a particularly tough passage. He can bring everyone back in tune with one well-timed single-note reminder.
The OCC’s arduous 15-week rehearsal schedule is a bit like training for a marathon. Singers begin with vocal stretching and conditioning exercises, combined with snatches of actual scores as they get accustomed to the complexities of the musical terrain. They build up to the repertoire in its entirety, but that’s where the comparison to a road race fades — singing with the OCC is not a competition. Participants from all over the Cape pull together for the sheer joy of singing. Even soloists know it’s about unity, not personal glory.
During recent rehearsals, the Independent interviewed chorale singers about their experiences. “OCC plays an important role in the larger community,” Bill Carlson says. “It brings together people whose paths might not otherwise cross, bringing their talents and energies to bear on a common creative goal. When you are working on Bach it doesn’t matter what your day job is or was, how old you are, which town you live in, what kind of car or truck you drive, or whether your back hurts. It’s good for you.”
Norma Marcellino joined the group, she says, “in the fall of 2007 or 2008, when we performed the Beatles. What a way to start! Since then we have faced many new challenges. I’ll never forget receiving 94 pages of music — in German no less — for the Brahms Requiem. I never thought we could learn it, but we did.”
Beau Clark, who has sung with OCC for nearly 15 years, recommends that anyone curious about OCC should “join today before losing your voice.” He praises Beavan for educating him as a singer and admits to still feeling “a bit uptight” before opening night.
Martha Magane has been with the group since it first formed. “It represents a very special community, grounded in using our voices to make a beautiful sound,” she says. “Allison prepares the ensemble in a way that is nothing short of a miracle.” She encourages those “who are ready for commitment, hard work, and the gratification of making meaningful music to join the group.”
For some, the process is genuinely therapeutic. Em Grucelski says that “singing is a very important part of my mental health. Allison is a very special, positive person. She has a unique way of drawing everyone out of their insecurities.”
Sharon Krause agrees. “Singing makes a lot of things better,” she says. “I can’t imagine not being part of the group. Thursday rehearsal has become a tradition.”
Kat Black says that “OCC helped me find my voice. I didn’t know I could sing. I discovered that group singing can be a spiritual practice.”
Music has always been integral to Mary Cassel’s life, and she especially enjoys singing classical works with the OCC. “Performances are like the proverbial icing on the cake,” she says. “Singing on the Outer Cape is intensely satisfying, because it feels like we have the most loving audiences in the world.”
Having moved back to Wellfleet full-time last spring, Debra Felix enjoys the OCC vibe. “I feel good leaving rehearsal able to sing a few more notes with better tone, rhythm, or emotion,” she says. “Sometimes I get totally lost singing a passage and have to stop until I find a place to jump in again. But listening to everyone around me is awesome. Allison is a weekly ray of sunshine, even when we sound like fisher cats.”
To anyone thinking of joining, Diane Kopser says, “Do it! We don’t all read music — many of us can’t, but that doesn’t stop anyone. Pretty much nothing does.”
Char Priolo adds her encouragement. “Fulfill your curiosity,” she says. “Commit to at least five weeks before you give in to any fear.”
OCC board member Kathleen Henry says that the payoff will be great. “The most challenging aspect of Thursday nights is keeping up with Allison,” says Henry. “She knows everything about the voice — the tips, the tricks, the physical dimension, the aesthetic profundities.” The best time to sign up, she says, is in February or early September. “The off-season can be quiet, and OCC fills that quiet with beautiful sound, familiar faces, and good will. It is hard work, it is fun, and it is beauty. What could be better than that?”
The Active Voice
The event: Outer Cape Chorale in concert with “Magnificent Magnificats”
The time: Friday, Dec. 13, and Saturday, Dec. 14, at 7 p.m.; Sunday, Dec. 15, at 3 p.m.
The place: Friday-Saturday: Provincetown Town Hall, 260 Commercial St.; Sunday: Nauset Regional Middle School, 70 Route 28, Orleans
The cost: Free, contributions welcome