Melodies — soulful and celebrating — usher in the holidays

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Hear them ring: Sarah Richardson holds her bell at the ready as she practices for a praise and worship service at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church. The bell choir will accompany songs of thanks at the service the night before Thanksgiving.

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Let the bells ring: Barb Collins, left, and Katie Matthews, with the Bethlehem Lutheran Church bell choir, concentrate on reading the music as they practice a holiday song. “There’s an association between Christmas and bells,” says Julie Panke, director of the Thursday Musical Club. “They’re very festive.”

The Enterprise — Michael Koff

Ringing in the holiday season: The bell choir of the Bethlehem Lutheran Church practices for the upcoming Thanksgiving Eve praise and worship service. The music director, Ruth Rice, says playing the bells is particularly tricky, since each bell plays one specific note, and the whole group must be in sync for the song to work. From left are Debbie Dowen, Rank Rice, Sarah Richardson, and Bill Collins.

— Photo submitted by Julie Panke

A formal portrait of a traditional group, the Thursday Musical Club, pictured this year on the 100th anniversary of its inception, will perform a concert of classic and traditional Christmas songs in early December.

The holiday season is here and so is the music that goes with it.

Parents teach children the songs that they know and love. Popular carols are translated into many different languages. No matter the age, no matter the culture, the tune is familiar, and the message is the same: The holidays are here; it’s time to celebrate.

According to Ruth Rice, music director at the Bethlehem Lutheran Church, music is not only beautiful, it contains messages, forges bonds from generation to generation, and strikes a common chord among different cultures.

“Music kind of goes into people’s souls,” said Rice.

She will be directing a senior choir, a kids’ choir, and a bell choir at a worship service of praise and thanksgiving at her church on Nov. 27.

Though most people automatically think of Christmas when they hear the term “holiday music,” Rice believes Thanksgiving is a festive time that should also be celebrated through song.

“It’s a joyous time, because you’re thankful for everything you have, and all of your blessings,” Rice said.

There are many anthems and hymns that express the sentiment of gratitude, she said, and some that will be incorporated into the Thanksgiving eve service include “This is the Day the Lord has Made”; “Thank You, Thank You, Thank You Lord”; and, “In Gratitude We Come.”

“It’s all about having a wonderful time before you head off and do your cooking,” said Rice.

Christmas, of course, is practically defined by music.

Julie Panke, director of the Thursday Musical Club, said, “The heart of Christmas is the carols.”

The Thursday Musical Club will be performing a concert on Dec. 7 at the First Reformed Church in Schenectady.

“Music, in and of itself, has a powerful way of evoking emotions, and, when you pair that with the holiday season, it’s just a natural combination,” said Panke.

The musical club’s holiday concert will open with classical tunes, dating back to the 17th Century, or even earlier. Following that will be a selection of “interesting arrangements” of traditional carols by more contemporary composers. There will be French, German, Scottish, Ukranian, and Czech carols. And, finally, the program will come to a close with what Panke calls the most familiar carols, with which the audience can sing along.

“We like to expose the audience to things they might not hear otherwise, but we also know the audience appreciates the popular, classical selections associated with Christmas,” Panke said.

This year’s sing-along song will be “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

Giving people familiar songs, she said, often gives them a chance to think about their families, their traditions, and remember what their childhood holidays were like.

Rice agreed with Panke’s sentiments about songs being nostalgic.

She noted that “Silent Night” has particular meaning for her, and is often hard for her to get through dry-eyed, because it was a special song to her parents, who are no longer alive.

“It brings back so many memories,” said Rice.

“People do grow up singing for all occasions,” said Panke, “but I think what they remember most is that tradition of singing for the holidays.”

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