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Mendelssohn Choir to perform at St. Kilian

CRANBERRY TWP — Those interested in the Mendelssohn Choir of Pittsburgh have a chance to see the oldest continually operating Pittsburgh arts organization free of charge Saturday in Cranberry Township.

The Mendelssohn Choir will present “The Promise of Light” at St. Kilian Catholic Church, 7076 Franklin Road, at 7:30 p.m. Saturday as part of the choir's six-performance, free-of-charge tour around the Pittsburgh area.

Matthew Mehaffey, the choir's Robert Page music director, said the choir's first set of performances in 22 months will make the group more accessible to those who ordinarily may not have been able to attend Mendelssohn's annual December performance with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra at Heinz Hall in the city.

“All of the venues we've selected have very beautiful acoustics for singing, so I think the audience is going to be enveloped into the sound of the Mendelssohn Choir,” Mehaffey added.

Eclectic mix on set list

At St. Kilian, guests will be treated to an eclectic mixture of music, Mehaffey said.

“Everything from the music of Dolly Parton, Carole King, to music from Broadway, to classical music that is what we think of when we think of classical choir music, there's probably 13 or 14 different musical pieces, and in between each one of those is a short reading that's seasonal,” he said.

The purpose of the musical selection — as well as the readings — is to celebrate not one religion or one religious holiday, but to “reflect on what it means to celebrate during the darkest time of year.”

“It's not an overtly sacred program; it's not necessarily a Christmas concert,” Mehaffey said. “It's more a reflection on this time of year — the idea that many faiths and many cultures choose to have celebrations during this time of year, which is the darkest time of year, the winter solstice.”

In fact, the celebration of the end of December's dark days is inspiration not only for the musical choices but for the arrangement of the program as a whole. The roughly one-hour concert will feature no intermission, Mehaffey said.

“It's like one continuous arc, from darkness to light, if you will,” he said.

Mehaffey said the program will celebrate not only the time of year but also the move — hopefully — toward the end of the pandemic, too. While the venues were chosen in part for acoustic potential, Mehaffey said they may have a special meaning to some attendees: “Perhaps these are all spaces people have been going and feeling safe during COVID.

“For some people, I know just from talking to singers in the group, they're having audience members who haven't been out to a cultural or sporting event in a very long time,” he said. “I'm hopeful that the music kind of sets them at ease and lets them remember why they love going out and hearing live music.”

Tom Bartos, a Cranberry resident who serves on the choir's board of directors, said he is wholly in support of the attempt at reaching out to suburban communities.“Matt's put together a great, great program, and the concept of outreach to various communities around the city, and hopefully accessing people who haven't had the chance to experience the choir,” he said. “These venues are typically not venues the choir would perform at, but I think it's great to get that exposure out to the communities.”Bartos said the choir was nominated for a Grammy award alongside the Pittsburgh Symphony.Mehaffey added the 114-year-old group is the “oldest continuously performing arts organization” in Pittsburgh.“It's truly a Pittsburgh treasure that we're trying to get more people exposed to and appreciate,” he added.Proof of vaccination is required for entry, while those under 12 years old or who need reasonable accommodations due to medical or religious reasons may present a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of the concert. Masks will be required. Ticket information is available on the choir's website, themendelssohn.org.