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Songs for the Season

Kitka's Wintersongs, The Babes holiday concert



You don't hear The Babes often. The group of 25-30 women singers only does a couple of concerts a year, one in the spring and another around Christmas time. Carol Ryder, musical and artistic director of the Humboldt Light Opera Company, leads the ensemble.

"We call ourselves The Babes, although officially we're the Humboldt Light Opera Women's Chorus," said longtime Babe Linda Anderson in an email exchange. "The original group did music from '60's -- frustrated backup singers, you know. As the group's musicality improved, Carol selected more difficult music written by contemporary choral composers -- not atonal screechy stuff, but more reflective of current trends in choral music."

The Babes' Christmas concerts focus on winter themes, including Englebert Humperdinck's "Evening Prayer," an energetic "African Noel" and what Anderson calls "fun songs," including "Merry Christmas Baby," "Rockin Around the Christmas Tree," Elvis' "Blue Christmas" and "Santa Claus is Coming to Town."

Levity is typically part of the show. For example, "Concerto for Singing Chickens and Piano" finds The Babes chicken clucking to familiar Beethoven and Tchaikovsky tunes. An audience favorite at last year's holiday show was "The Twelve Days After Christmas," turning the classic song upside-down: "On the first day after Christmas, my true love and I had a fight, so I chopped the pear tree down and burnt it just for spite. Then with a single cartridge, I shot that blasted partridge my true love gave to me."

The Babes' Holiday Concert takes place on Saturday, Dec. 15, starting at 7:30 p.m. at the Arcata United Methodist Church 1761 11th St., Arcata. Donations accepted at the door.

The basic concept is the same -- women gathered together to explore vocal traditions and sing in harmony -- but the Oakland-based octet Kitka is a far cry from The Babes. Kitka draws inspiration and material from traditional music of Eastern Europe, along the lines of Les Mysteres Des Voix Bulgares. Now in its 33rd year, the group is working on a film about its history titled, The Harmony of Dissonance.

The a capella ensemble is currently on tour with a show called Wintersongs, a very different sort of celebration of the winter season. Traditional pieces are woven together with original compositions by Kitka members and Eastern European composers. The mix includes new arrangements of old folk songs, from Slavic folk carols and lush meditative Eastern Orthodox sacred choral works to Yiddish songs for Chanukah and pagan incantations for the return of the Sun God. All are inspired by the customs, beauty and mystery of wintertime.

"What has and will always remain the same is the fundamental need to gather together at this darkest time of the year to raise our voices in song," said Kitka member Michele Simon, project co-director for Wintersongs. "It's something humans have probably done since the time we lived in caves, first praying for the return of the sun."

Kitka's Wintersongs concert takes place on Sunday, Dec. 16, at 7 p.m. at the Arcata Playhouse, 1251 Ninth St. Tickets are $20, $17 for Playhouse members and are available at Wildberries, Wildwood Music, The Works or at The group will also host a vocal workshop that day from 3-5 p.m. at the Playhouse, fee $35. For further information or reservations for the show or the workshop call 822-1575.

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