Cantata Tonight

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I hope you are as excited as I am to begin our work on Christmas Cantata this evening.  The music is beautiful and filled with awesome Christmas melodies.  I am quite confident you will fall in love with the music I have selected. (link to recordings below)

Rehearsal starts at 6:30. Please come a bit early to register and pick up your music.

Do you know any potential cantata singers?   Perhaps you know someone who always wanted to join us?   Please encourage new folks to take the plunge and join us our wonderful musical experience.

All the best,


PS. You may preview or download recordings of the music HERE.


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Reminder – Cantata rehearsals start Sunday, October 16th

Dear Friends,

Can you believe it? The first practice for this year’s Christmas Cantata is this coming Sunday, October 16th. I hope you’re as excited as I am. I can’t wait to get the music, to welcome returning singers, to welcome new singers, and to start singing this wonderful music at Mark Smith’s direction.

I just want to remind you that we’ll start signing people up and selling the music at 5:30 PM on the 16th. The cost is $15, and exact change or a check is very much appreciated. Rehearsal starts at 6:30 PM. We are of course rehearsing as usual in the United Presbyterian Church in Hornell. Please use the Church Street entrance. We’ll register singers and dispense the music in the “great hall,” so go up the ramp after entering the church. Rehearsal will be in the sanctuary.

I hope you have been spreading the word and encouraging people you know to join us. This is an informal group, with no audition needed to join the chorus. We welcome young singers. We trust the parents to know when it’s appropriate for their child or children to sing with us. Give your friend a nudge and encourage him or her to give it a try.

Those of us who have been rehearsing with Orpheus got exposure to one of the extra pieces that Mark has selected. It’s a wonderful rendition of “Mary Did You Know?” The rhythm is a little tricky at first, but once you get the hang if it, the whole piece flows, and the harmonies and interplay of the various parts is terrific. I know some of you will make it your favorite piece.

See you soon!

I have attached a one-page flyer that you may post at your church, workplace, etc. Feel free to make copies.




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Dear Singers and Musicians:

With arrival of Labor Day, the start of school, and football, we know that fall is coming, and Thanksgiving, Advent, and Christmas aren’t far behind, so that means that


Performance Date: 4 December 2016 (7:00 PM, St. Ann’s Roman Catholic Church, Hornell)

Music Pickup, Listen Through, and First Rehearsal: 16 October 2016, United Presbyterian Church, Hornell

Rehearsal Times: 6:30-8:30 PM Sunday, beginning October 16th

Please participate in this year’s Community Christmas Cantata, and please spread the word.  Our email list has some invalid addresses, and we want to make sure that we reach everyone who sang with us last year and as many other singers as possible.

Here are the rehearsal details.  Our first meeting is Sunday, 16 October.  You can purchase scores starting at 5:30 PM.  We will have the music playing, and there will be a regular rehearsal, 6:30-8:30 with our very own worry-early music director, Mark Smith.  Music pick-up and rehearsals will be at The United Presbyterian Church, 150 Main Street in Hornell (use the Church Street entrance).  All subsequent rehearsals (except for the one on Saturday, 3 December) will be held from 6:30 to 8:30 PM, also at The United Presbyterian Church.

The cost of the music is $15. The music price includes a little extra to pay for orchestration and expenses, such as shipping costs.

Mark Smith “auditioned” many Christmas cantatas before selecting What Sweeter Music by John Leavitt, a well-know composer of sacred choral music.  Mark says this cantata contains “terrific arrangements,” as well as a few wonderful, but less-frequently performed carols.

Along with this cantata we will fill out our program with two additional contemporary pieces.  One is Mary Did You Know, with Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent, arranged by Joseph Martin, another well-known composer/arranger of sacred choral music.  This piece is moving, large, and “wonderfully layered” (another quote from Mark).  The second piece, will be a wonderful arrangement “Ring the Bells” made popular by Travis Cottrell.

And yes, we will also perform the “Hallelujah Chorus” from “Messiah.” (Dig out your copy, if you have one!)  We’ll also have the traditional carol sing with the audience.  That’s always a moving finish to our musical celebration of the coming of Christ.  A link to mp3 versions of these pieces can be found here .

If you’re not sure about participating in this year’s Cantata, let me make some points that might help you decide to make the commitment.  First, our chorus is open to inexperienced singers.  We don’t have auditions.  All we ask is that you are serious about your participation by attending rehearsals and by practicing a little bit on your own.  Mark is not only a wonderful director; he is a great choral teacher.  Second, this is a short commitment – eight weeks.  I sing in my church choir, in the Cantata chorus, and in Orpheus.  I love to sing in choral groups, but that wasn’t always the case.  I started singing as an adult when Jackie Walker (the first Cantata director) asked me to commit to eight weeks of singing in the Cantata.  That got me hooked, and maybe you’ll get hooked too.  Even if you don’t, it’s just eight weeks, with one rehearsal a week.  Third, we don’t have age limits.  If you’re a senior, and you’re worried about standing on risers for the performance, we can make sure that you stand on the floor, or that you sit.  If you’re a young person, we welcome you as long as you are a serious, full participant.  Rehearsals are both fun and hard work (the two really can be compatible!).  Discipline is required, because Mark has a lot of ground to cover each time we meet.  Fourth, this is an opportunity to join with friends and strangers (who won’t be strangers after you sing with them) to present a gift to the community, a very precious gift at a time when the true meaning of Christmas is needed more than ever.  Fifth (and I’ll stop with five, even though I could keep going), we have an amazing director – Mark Smith – who really makes the hard work of rehearsing a joy and the highlight of the week for many of us.

Join Us – Please!

Please make the commitment to attend all of the rehearsals.  We know that jobs, travel, illness, and other events in your life may force you to miss one or two rehearsals.  However, please remember that the morale of the group and the enjoyment of the process are directly linked to optimum attendance.  Our performance in St. Ann’s is the highlight and culmination of our efforts, but the fellowship and enjoyment of participating in the cantata is rooted in the rehearsals.  So please give this your most serious consideration.

On behalf of the Hornell Community Choir, best wishes!  We look forward to having you singing with us this year!

Jim Varner

announcement – MS word-version


Posted in Cantata 2016.

The Vulnerability of Choral Singing

Dear Friends,
Interesting article. Another perspective on why we do, what we do. – M
published 29 January 2016 by Richard J. Clark

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Some post-performance thoughts and information

Dear Singers,

Mark’s post-Cantata message was eloquent and moving.  Not only is he a fantastic conductor and teacher, he also is a gifted writer who can convey emotions in his words.

I’ll add my own feelings about how special it was to work with you and to sing with you Sunday evening.  Every Cantata choir is unique; every performance is unique.  I’m always a little sad that the moment is so fleeting, but I’m also so very proud of how we bring things together under Mark’s direction during the performance to sing the music at a higher level then during rehearsals.  It’s magic!  Well, it’s mysterious, but it’s the result of our collective and individual hard work and Mark’s ability to help us get to a point we didn’t know was possible.

If you sang with us for the first time, thank you for making this journey, and we hope to see you back next year.  If you are a “veteran” of the choir, thank you for coming back, and we hope to see you next year.  For everybody, invite others to join us next year.  We know how much enjoyment this brings to us, and we should invite others to share our secret.

Jackie Walker sent a note that I want to share with you.  Here it is: To Jim and others for dedicating the cantata to me.  I was very moved by this honor.  The music was beautiful.  I only wish I could have participated, but the performance lifted my spirits.  It was a great beginning to this season of joy.  With many thanks, Jackie.

I’ll conclude by giving you the news you have all been waiting for; namely, the amount that was donated.  I’m thrilled to tell you that the audience donated $2,043.  We will round this up to $2,050 to present to Guiding Eyes for the Blind, Southern Tier.  We’ll arrange a presentation, take a picture, and submit an article to the newspaper.

Thank you all!  Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!


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A Humbling Gift

Hello Dear Friends.

What an awesome ride..  I hope you are still aglow from our wonderful program on Sunday.   I am very proud of our performance and I hope you are as well.

I’ve received tons of wonderful comments and Facebook has lit up over the past couple of days. Again, the community is a-buzz.   (Peish Video has even posted the video of our Hallelujah Chorus.)

The one year thing I will remember about this year is Tears.  Yes, tears.  Each year, numbers of people tell me that they are moved to cry each year at Cantata.  Tears are a funny things aren’t they?   Tears can be prompted by many things including, sadness, spiritual insight, memories, artistic beauty, and pure joy. Again, this year I received several messages that mention being moved to tears. In addition, both audience and choir members shared tears with me following our performance on Sunday. Apparently, we touch a nerve as we present our work.

Our message exceeds the pride of a job well done.  Musicality may be our focus but our product is much more.   The world is a complex place.  Our lives are complex.  On Sunday, we provided a safe, appropriate invitation for deep reflection and human response to this complexity and we topped it off with a dash of hope and joy.  For a few minutes on Sunday, we gave a gift of beauty, meaning, solace, comfort and optimism to our friends and neighbors. We also provided the these gifts to ourselves; gifts that transcend the lines and dots on our pages. I find it an extraordinary to be a part of this thing we do. It is deeply humbling.  I will not take it for granted.

I wish you all a safe, happy, and deeply meaningful holiday season.  If this comes with a few tears, all the better.

Bless you,



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Cantata – help with handing out programs

Hi!  I’m back with a last-minute request.  We need a few people to hand out programs to people as they enter St. Ann’s.  Do any of you have family members who could do this (spouse, aunt, uncle, grandparent, older children)?  We need a total of four people (three aisles and the side door).

If you have someone willing to do this, please get back to me with an email (, or call (324-0850).


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Cantata Recordings

I now have forms to order cantata recordings.  DVD’s are $20 and music CD’s are $15.  Peish Video is recording the performance.

I will bring order forms with me on Sunday.  You may fill out a form and leave it with me with your payment.  I’ll take the forms to Peish Video on Monday.  However, I must have the exact amount in cash (I can’t make change), or you may use a check.  If you write a check, make it payable to PEISH VIDEO.

You may also order recordings on your own, either by mailing your completed form and payment to Peish Video (the address is on the form), or my taking it to their place of business directly.

Recordings will be shipped by 19 December, if you get your order in promptly.


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Riser Set-Up on Sunday – Time Change

Riser set-up Sunday afternoon will be at 4:00 PM, an hour later than announced at rehearsal.  The reason is that there is a prayer service at 3.  So, riser set-up at 4:00 PM Sunday afternoon.  If you can help, that will be most welcome.


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Sunday’s “Order of Things”

Hi .. sharing this … Sunday’s “Order of Things”


Order of Things
Organ Preludes – John Bartell
Choir Enters – 7pm
Welcome – Jim Varner
Choral Invocation – “Wake, Awake for Night is Flying” – J.S. Bach
Processional & Anthem – ORGAN
Cantata – One Silent Night – Pepper Choplin
My Spirit Waits for Emmanuel
The Call – Soloist: Linda Staiger
The Trip to Bethlehem
God So Loved This Silent Night
The Angels and Shepherds
Glory to God in the Highest Heaven – Soloist: Vinny Capluzzi
The Wise Men in Jerusalem
When They Saw the Star
The Wise Men Worship
Behold the Child
Joy to the World!
Glory Halleluyah to the Newborn King – Cynthia Gray
Free Will Offering
When the Song the Angels is Stilled
Hallelujah Chorus – G.F. Handel
Procession with Candles into Audience – Organ
Candlelight Carol Sing –
Hark The Herald Angels Sing (Orch)
O Come, O Come, Emmanuel (Organ)
The First Noel (Orch)
Silent Night (Orch)
Let There Be Peace on Earth (Organ)
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