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St. Barnabus Church is setting for Sunday's Christmas concert

Catherine Gagnon lives in Kingston, a tiny and quaint village in the town of South Kingstown officially known as “Little Rest.”

The latter, in fact, are perhaps the best words that describe Gagnon, who, among other things, owns and operates a bed and breakfast in the historic village near her alma mater, the University of Rhode Island.

Gagnon also works within the Somerset, Mass. Public Schools where she is involved in instrumental instruction for grades 5-8 and also directs elementary and middle school concert bands.

She’s an accomplished performer of both the French horn and piano and is involved in performance opportunities throughout the region and during summer breaks in the south of France.

To say that Gagnon’s life is a marvelous and musical journey would be an understatement.

But that’s why Gagnon was selected to succeed the highly-acclaimed Dinarte Ferro, who turned the Warwick Symphony Orchestra baton over to Gagnon after serving as conductor/director for 21 years. The WSO, according to Orchestra Historian Howard Goldman who lives in East Greenwich, was founded in 1966 by George Low.

And come Sunday, the WSO – which some call “The best kept musical secret in Rhode Island” – will put on a special, 90-minute Winter Concert inside the ageless and beautiful St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Apponaug.

“Admission is only eight dollars,” said Stanley Schofield, senior warden at St. Barnabas. “But that’s about the best eight dollars anyone could ever spend, especially if they enjoy high-quality live music.”

Sunday’s concert will begin promptly at 3 p.m. and there’s plenty of free parking by-and-around St. Barnabas Church.

“The orchestra came here last year and put on an absolutely wonderful and glorious concert,” Schofield said. “We’re honored to have such a great collection of musicians back this year … everyone is excited about Sunday’s concert, especially since there’s a new conductor/director.”

Gagnon, who has worked extensively in non-profit arts administration as well as various facets of musical education for grades pre-K through college, is also excited about Sunday’s appearance at St. Barnabas. What, then, can people who decide to take in Sunday’s special concert at St. Barnabas expect to hear?

“The first half of the concert will be based on folk-like tunes,” Gagnon said. “They’ll be major classical pieces … we know them as folk tunes ... simple tunes … more classical, if you will, but not too stuffy. We’ll begin with the Nabucco-Overture [by Giuseppe Verdi].”

Gagnon, who has also served as an assistant conductor with the West Bay Chorale, the URI Symphony Orchestra and URI Symphonic Wind Ensemble, just to name a few musical organizations she’s served, also announced the first half of Sunday’s concert by the 55-member WSO will include "Sheep May Safely Graze" (J.S. Bach Cailliet, arr.), "Variations on a Quaker Hymn" (Roland Follas) and "Prologue, Hymn and Dance" (J.P. Holesovsky).

The WSO has, Gagnon said, “added to its list of musicians across the entire ensemble.”

There are currently upwards of 55 accomplished musicians in the 2011 edition of the WSO.

“This is an accomplished group of musicians who are even better than they think they are.”

And that group of musicians, which has an international flavor with people like Hagop Anmahian, concertmaster who leads the First Violin section and who played in last year’s concert at St. Barnabas, has quite an exciting list of numbers planned for the second half of Sunday’s concert.

The opening piece will be "Farandole" from "Suite No. 2" (George Bizet Stone, arr.) then the WSO will swing, if you will, smack into a special piece entitled "Christmas Fugue" on "We Wish You a Merry Christmas" (Robert B. Brown).

What is Gagnon’s favorite Christmas song?

“That’s really hard to me to answer,” said Gagnon, who has also performed as part of theatrical and operatic performances in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts. “As a player, though, I’d have to say 'Ding Dong Merrily on High.'”

"Ding Dong Merrily on High" is a Christmas carol that first appeared as a secular dance tune known as “le branche de/’Official’ in "Orchesographie," a dance book written by Jean Tabourot (1519-1593). The lyrics are from English composer George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848-1934).

Gagnon’s favorite piece, though, isn’t on Sunday’s schedule.

The second half of what Schofield said “promises to be a glorious afternoon” will also include: "Angels, from the Realms of Glory" (James Montgomery-R.W. Smith arr.); "Festive Sounds of Hanukah" (Bill Holcombe); "Variations on Joy to the World" (James Christensen) and "Christmas Music for the Orchestra" (John Cacavas).

Tickets for Sunday’s concert will be on sale at the door.


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