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The Commons
The Arts

38th annual performance of Nowell Sing We Clear to be presented at the Latchis Theater

Originally published in The Commons issue #181 (Wednesday, December 5, 2012).


BRATTLEBORO—One of the area’s most popular holiday programs, the musical group Nowell Sing We Clear, featuring Tony Barrand, Fred Breunig, Andy Davis, and John Roberts, will be presented at the Latchis Theatre on Tuesday, Dec. 11, at 7:30 p.m.

Nowell Sing We Clear celebrates the mid-winter season as it was known for centuries in Britain and North America. The songs come from an age when this time of year was a time for joyous celebration and vigorous expression of older, perhaps pagan, religious ideas. Many of these ancient customs are the basis of today’s holiday traditions, such as carol singing from door-to-door and the adorning of houses and churches with garlands of evergreen.

The first half of the program, “The Prince of Peace,” celebrates the birth of Jesus as told in the carols and songs found in the folk traditions of Britain and North America.

“The Twelve Days,” the second half, offers carols heard in the 12 magic days following the winter solstice. An annual treat is the enactment of a Mummers Play from Kentucky. Performed in the traditional manner, the play is typical of folk dramas which survive throughout Britain and North America, portraying the death of the land at mid-winter and its spring rebirth.

Mummers plays often have political references, so the question always becomes, “Who will Tony [Barrand] be this year?"

The pageant of mid-winter carols is stamped with the energetic dance band sound of fiddle, accordion, concertina, and piano, although many of the songs are performed in unaccompanied four-part harmony. The audience will be supplied with song sheets and encouraged to sing along.

Nowell Sing We Clear has become an important part of the mid-winter celebrations of many New England families since its first performance, in 1975. A number of area schools incorporate material from the pageant into their holiday concerts and many area children have grown up with the group’s songs and carols. In fact, some of those “children” are now having families of their own, and are bringing them to the concerts creating a third generation of Nowell fans.

The group has travelled extensively, as far south as Charlottesville, Va., and west to Ann Arbor, Mich. Nowell Sing We Clear usually traverses New England and New York State every December.

The group’s seven recordings are popular items in many households at this time of year. A compilation of the first three (originally on vinyl) are available as “The Best of Nowell Sing We Clear, 1975-1986,” (1989) which will be sold at the show. With a lighter touring schedule this year, the group will be recording tracks for their next CD.

Nowell Sing We Clear is performed by John Roberts and Tony Barrand, widely known for their lively presentation of English folk songs; and Fred Breunig and Andy Davis, well-known New England-style dance callers and musicians.

Roberts lives Schenectady, N.Y., and maintains a full schedule of solo performances throughout the year in addition to his work with Barrand and the group.

The other three members are all Brattleboro residents. Barrand is a retired Boston University professor and is a highly respected folk dance teacher and scholar. Davis teaches music at Oak Grove, Green Street, and Dover Elementary schools. Breunig is publications manager for World Learning.

Tickets are $20 in advance (seniors and children under 12, $17) and are available in person at Everyone’s Books on Elliot Street in Brattleboro, online at brattleborotix.com, or at the door for $22 ($19 for seniors and children under 12). For more information visit www.latchis.com/liveEvents.php or call 802-254-9019.


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