Orchestra and Chorus

November 26, 2014
The Orchestra & Choir in the balcony, Stephan Casurella, Conducting
C.K. Wang, photo

A 30-piece orchestra accompanies The Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival. These professional musicians are from throughout the greater Cincinnati area and beyond. Many have participated in the Boar’s Head Orchestra for years – some more than 30.

The Boar’s Head Choir is a 50-person ensemble. With minimal rehearsal time, this group comes together each year to sing the festive carols with gusto. A number of the choristers are former choir members; singing in these performances is also a reunion celebration.

There are parts of the Boar's Head Festival that Music Director Stephan Casurella has never seen. From his position in the balcony, his eyes are mainly directed towards the orchestra, choir, and the monitor for organist Shiloh Roby who’s seated at the organ console behind the evergreens on the stage.

There is a lot of running up and down stairs to the balcony. The trumpeter who introduces the performance outside the nave then runs up to the balcony to play his part in the Boar's Head Carol. Until he gets there, another trumpeter covers his part for him.

All the soloists who are also kings, shepherds, and waits sing in the choir, as well as taking part in the processions around the nave. So up and down they go, crawling over other choristers and all the lighting equipment in the balcony.

There’s even some fancy footwork at the end, a quiet and solemn moment for the audience as the sprite leaves the darkened church with his candle. Simultaneously, chorister David Thompson, who also plays King Wenceslas, starts a CD recording of chimes to be played over the loudspeaker. Another chorister runs down to the lower level under the chapel and initiates the mechanism that causes the bells in the cathedral tower to play. The result is a sense that the bells in the tower can be heard in the nave. (They can't.)

Through it all, Shiloh Roby’s playing is the musical thread that stitches the performance together.

Shiloh is a master at improvisation. Not only does he perform his own ideas of the regal music appropriate for the procession, he weaves in familiar tunes, appreciated by the musically sophisticated listener. This year listen for "What a Small Party This Is " and "Putting on the Ritz". Another year "Hail, Britannia" was woven into his playing.

Behind Boar's Head forest set is Organist Shiloh Roby's solo spot
C.K. Wang, photo

Last Christmas Shiloh was given a stuffed squirrel for his dog. Instead he brought it in to keep him company in his solo spot behind the evergreens – where his only visual connection with the festival is a small TV monitor connected to a camera that is focused on Stephan, who cues Shiloh at key points during the performance. Stephan’s attire is a white shirt and bright tie rather than something more formal. Otherwise Shiloh can't see him through the monitor.

When the quartet of waits are singing in the front, out of earshot, Stephan lip reads to know when to bring in the chorus. And at the very end when everyone sings “Oh Come All Ye Faithful”, Stephan has to let Shiloh know if he needs to slow the tempo of the last verse so the procession will get out on time.

Stephan says "The whole experience brings serious musicians together in a festive way that celebrates the ending of the holiday season."

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