By Crystal Hayduk
Ring in the winter holiday season at the Hometown Holiday Concert, featuring the world premiere of Wonder, a full-scale work by award-winning composer and Chelsea resident Brian Brill.
It will be performed by Chelsea Chamber Players in collaboration with Chelsea High School (CHS) musicians and choirs, the host church’s sanctuary choir, and other guest musicians—including many who are local music teachers. The concert will be held on Dec. 3 at the Chelsea First United Methodist Church (CFUMC).
The Chelsea Chamber Players (CCP) initially commissioned Brill to compose Wonder for the 2020 Hometown Holiday Concert, in celebration of the group’s 20th anniversary of playing concerts in Chelsea, said Sara Cumming, the group’s cellist. Even the high school music students knew Brill had begun work on the piece in early 2020 and eagerly anticipated the opportunity to play his composition with CCP. However, as the COVID-19 pandemic lingered, it became clear to Brill the performance would be postponed.
As the pandemic rolled into 2021, Brill determined the next best time for the performance of his 11-movement, eclectic piece for choir and a 32-piece orchestra would be 2023.
CCP gave Brill their vision for Wonder. “Sara [Cumming] said, ‘Why don’t we do something based on poems about stars?’ I used the poems she suggested as inspiration, and they form the lyrics,” he said.
Brill has written a piece that includes a wide mix of styles depending on the movement, so there is something for everyone to love. Listeners will hear contemporary and classical styles of music, with some musical theatre, Caribbean and Latin styles, and parts that are heavy with percussion.
With both professional and advanced high school musicians playing Brill’s music, he faced a special composition challenge. He and CCP agreed to hire additional musicians as needed (budget permitting) for this performance. “At the same time, we wanted as many students as possible to play, provided we were putting them in a position where they could be successful,” said Brill.
The orchestra will include advanced CHS string students playing with CCP. Hired musicians will play woodwinds, French horns, percussion, and piano.
Nathan Peters, a CCP musician and assistant orchestra director at CHS, said the Hometown Holiday Concert has been a positive influence on orchestra students over the years. “The students learned so much from playing at this concert with the pros that they always scored highly when they performed on their own at the Michigan School Band and Orchestra Association District and State Solo and Ensemble Festivals, and were nominated for the elite small ensemble state competition,” he said. “Without a doubt, the collaboration with CCP has bolstered the students’ level of playing at CHS.”
Brill said the Hometown Holiday concert has been a long-standing, well-attended annual tradition, and he is honored to have written the piece. “I have two goals when I write music,” he said. “I want it to be fun for the performers and I want the audience to be engaged and enjoy it.”
“We are excited to see this huge collaboration in our community come together to finally bring Wonder to life,” said Cumming.
About Brian Brill: A pianist and two-time Emmy Award winning composer, Brill and his wife have made Chelsea their home since 1987. He has written original music and film scores for PBS Television, CBS Sports, Turner Classic Movies, and The Discovery Channel. He has written original works and arrangements for a variety of clients including the Detroit Symphony Orchestra, Kalamazoo Symphony, Chelsea Chamber Players, and Thornapple Wind Ensemble. He also arranges and produces music for songwriters and ensembles. In 2019, he co-produced a full-length album by Nessa, a Celtic-World Music ensemble. Brill’s personal recordings include “Red Arrow Highway,” a smooth jazz project of original compositions with guitarist Robert Tye; “Sunday Morning,” including original compositions along with jazz and popular hymns; and “The Wesley Project,” a cinematic approach to the hymns of Charles Wesley featuring piano, strings, flute, and handbells. Brian’s most recent project, “The Traveler,” was released in July, 2017.
About Chelsea Chamber Players (from www.chelseachamberplayers.com): Since 2000, the Chelsea Chamber Players have provided live music concerts to Chelsea and surrounding communities, and educational experiences through workshops in schools and masterclass opportunities. Contract musicians perform as duo, trio, and quartet ensembles, supported by a small number of volunteers. Since the spring concert of 2004, all Chelsea Chamber Players concerts have been free to attend.
Know Before You Go:
What: Hometown Holiday Concert; world premiere of Wonder, by Brian Brill.
Who: Performed by Chelsea Chamber Players—featuring violinists Nathan Peters and Paula Elliott, violist Ian Cumming, and cellist Sara Cumming—with CHS Chamber Orchestra; CHS Chamber Choir and Bella Voce; CFUMC Choir; and guest musicians. Conducted by Phillip Sylvester, CHS orchestra director.
When: Concerts at 3 and 7 p.m. on Dec. 3.
Where: Chelsea First United Methodist Church, 128 Park St., Chelsea.
How: Free admission, with support from the Chelsea Community Foundation and Creative Washtenaw.
Why: Dedicated to the memory of Ann Feeney, a CCP board member until her death in July 2020. Feeney strongly supported and encouraged CCP to commission Brian Brill to compose this work.