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Artist Profile: Bellingham Chamber Chorale concert highlights harp music

Ryan Smit is in his fourth season as artistic director of Bellingham Chamber Chorale, which performs its first concert of the season, “Heading East: Ceremony of Carols,” at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, at First Congregational Church, 2401 Cornwall Ave.

Smit was first a singer in the ensemble, then an assistant conductor, and in 2010-2011 served as guest artistic director.

He has taught choir, general music, and music theory at Lynden Christian School since 2005, and conducts the middle and high school choirs at Lynden Christian School, the Third Christian Reformed Church choir, and the Whatcom County Christian Reformed Church Christmas Choir Cantata (every December, this year on Dec. 14).

Under his direction, the concert choir at Lynden Christian High was invited to sing in Carnegie Hall in a massed choir performance of Beethoven’s Mass in C major with John Rutter.

Smit is a member of the Male Ensemble Northwest, a group comprised of choral teachers and professors who perform and host workshops for young male singers throughout the Northwest. He also has served as chorus master for the Skagit Opera’s production of “M. Butterfly.”

He teaches private voice during the summer, serves community choirs and student musicians as a vocal clinician, and performs occasionally as a tenor soloist with the Lynden Choral Society. Smit lives in Lynden with his wife, Amie, and their two children, Caleb and Emilyn.

Question: How has leading the Chamber Chorale for the last few years influenced your life?

Answer: Directing the Bellingham Chamber Chorale has been a very enriching and fulfilling musical experience. I enjoy conducting choirs of all ages and levels; the BCC allows me a chance to rehearse and perform more advanced choral literature at a very high level of excellence. I appreciate the opportunity to dig into the details and address the finer points of choral performance.

Q: How does your faith impact your involvement with music?

A: My Christian faith is an important part of who I am and how I rehearse and conduct choirs. I strive to follow the example set forth by Jesus Christ in how I treat people, and I seek to use my musical gifts in such a way as to glorify our creator God.

“Striving” and “seeking” means that I don’t always hit the mark, but these are certainly spiritual and professional goals I have for myself.

Q: What do you enjoy about teaching, both at Lynden Christian and as a private teacher?

A: I love seeing students discover the joy that singing can bring to their lives and to the lives of others. I love being a part of the process by which students become confident, accomplished singers. I love encouraging students to share their gifts of singing with their families and their community.

Q: How did you select the program for this weekend’s concert?

A: This Christmas concert features both a staple from the choral repertoire (Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols”) and a newer addition (Conrad Susa’s “Carols and Lullabies of the Southwest”). Susa actually wrote “Carols and Lullabies” as a partner to Britten’s “Ceremony.”

They are a wonderful contrast to each other, and yet they share one key element, the use of harp as accompaniment. “Carols and Lullabies” also features classical guitar and marimba, making the entire work an absolute delight for the ears.

Joining us for these works will be local musicians Jill Whitman on harp, Squalicum High School band teacher Kay Reilly on marimba, and Western Washington University professor of guitar studies David Feingold on guitar.

All ages are welcome to this concert, though I imagine it would be most appreciated by those 10 and older. I also want to encourage those who speak or enjoy the Spanish language to attend; the carols and lullabies of the Southwest are nearly all in Spanish and Spanish dialects.

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