Sing hallelujah: Janesville church starts season with cantata

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Ann Fiore
Wednesday, December 4, 2013

JANESVILLE—First Lutheran Church likes to kick off the Christmas season by tapping into a centuries-old musical tradition.

That tradition is the cantata, a special-occasion composition written for voices and an orchestra.

The word comes from the Italian word “cantare,” which literally means “sung.” Cantatas date back to 17th-century Italy, when a single singer would perform without musical accompaniment. As the style developed alongside opera, multiple voices and instruments were added, and the works became more dramatic.

First Lutheran could have chosen one of Johann Sebastian Bach's 200-plus cantatas for its Dec. 15 concert. Instead, it went in a modern direction with a new work, “The Jesus Gift.”

“The Jesus Gift” is unusual because it incorporates many musical styles, from soft Caribbean to gospel and jazz/rock, said Frank Liston, the cantata's director.

To perform the piece, the church had to expand its orchestra from eight to 18 musicians.

“It's an absolutely beautiful arrangement,” Liston said. “It will appeal to an audience of any age.”

Three soloists and three narrators will accompany the 45-voice chorus, a volunteer group that started preparing in October.

Soloists include tenor Tom Lemery, baritone Sam Oines and soprano Jan Knutson, who's well known as Parker High School's choir director.

The three narrators are Steve Schulta, Peggy Ekdahl and Megan Anderson.

Liston said cantatas aren't just for churchgoers. People of all walks of life can enjoy music that speaks to them.

“It's a way to start the season,” he said. “Why not come and be immersed in it?”

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