The Frederick Chorale is kicking off its 36th season with a new mix of songs from around the world at its annual Revels holiday concert, as well as a new music director.
Conducting the chorale for the first time will be Douglas Cox, who succeeds chorale founder Nancy Roblin, who founded the group in 1977 and retired in April.
An assistant conductor and tenor with the Soldiers’ Chorus of the U.S. Army Field Band, Cox, who lives in Catonsville, recently retired after 28 years of service.
“Any of the finalists would have been good, but he was the clear, best choice,” says Melodie Charles, president of the chorale’s board of directors.
The Revels concert will take place Dec. 8-9 at the Calvary United Methodist Church in Frederick, a different location than First Baptist Church where it was held last year.
As is tradition for the chorale, the music is once again performed by a costumed group of madrigal singers who are part of the English court of Queen Elizabeth.
Cox says the story this year is that the queen sent the group of nearly 50 singers “to explore the [musical] riches of other lands.”
“It’s a very diverse program — it’s all exciting music,” Charles says.
In the program are carols by Britten and Rachmaninoff, along with a Bach cantata and Handel’s “Hallelujah.”
There is also a gospel song, “Children, Go Where I Send Thee,” and a Hanukkah song in Yiddish and English.
“For me, the interest and the challenge is in getting little short [pieces] juxtaposed with each other to expand on a single [holiday] idea,” Cox says.
Also in the program is the Nigerian carol, “Betelehemu,” sung in the Yoruba dialect of West Africa, as well as music from Spain and France.
“This is the most languages we’ve ever sung,” Charles says of the seven different languages used in the show. “It’s definitely a record for us.”
Revels also again features a theatrical dialogue between sets this year featuring a Lord Chamberlain, Court Jester and Lady Martha.
Charles says that Cox, who has been working with the Frederick group since August, was chosen from among four finalists who auditioned by conducting the chorale.
“He made us sing in a particular way to get a particular sound, and it was a really fine sound,” says Charles about the Celestial chorus from Handel’s “Samson” oratorio.
Cox is equally complimentary about the chorale.
“The level of singing is absolutely on a par with [choruses in Baltimore and Washington] for a group of their size,” he says.
Cox grew up in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where music and art were mandatory programs in the school system. Cedar Rapids was somewhat off the beaten path for visiting musical groups and so the city developed their own, he says.
“If you want [culture] in your community, you’ve got to provide it,” he says.
Cox played the saxophone in fourth grade and continued to study music in school.
“I did well and I kept going back to it,” says Cox, who went on to major in music and music education at Wichita State University in Kansas, where he also earned a master’s degree in choral work.
He taught music for five years in public schools before applying to the Soldiers’ Chorus in 1983. The chorus performs free concerts for the public, while a local partner arranges for a venue and publicity, he says.
Cox was most recently based at Fort Meade in Odenton and traveled extensively in the United States and overseas.
“We were on the road 110 to 120 days a year,” he says. “There’s just about no major medium-sized city in the continental United States that I haven’t been to.”
During those years he rose to the rank of sergeant major, the highest rank for an enlisted man, and also married soprano Janet Hjelmgren, also a sergeant major and former member of the Soldiers’ Chorus.
After “Revels,” Cox says the chorale will be performing a concert about the many manifestations of love with a program that will include two Cole Porter songs, “Begin the Beguine” and “Let’s Do It”, a sonnet by Shakespeare set to music and other songs.
In May, the group will collaborate with the Frederick Symphony for a performance of Beethoven’s ninth symphony.
“I’m having a blast,” says Cox. “It’s such a fine group of singer musicians who are all so very dedicated to singing well and [performing] a high-quality repertoire.”