Cantigas Women’s Choir prepares for winter concert

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Hudson County’s Cantigas Women’s Choir, more than 40 strong, is in full swing for another season. First on the schedule is the group’s annual December concert, with this year’s repertoire inspired by the 13th century Persian poet and theologian, Rumi: “Both light and shadow are the dance of love.”

Cantigas Artistic Director, Hannah Carr, explains, “I used this quote because Rumi gets at universal themes that transcend time. His words lend themselves to music programming because of the imagery of motion reflected in the poetry.”

Now in her second year at the helm of Cantigas, Carr points to the song “Bringers,” by Hungarian composer Miklos Koscar and based on the text of a Carl Sandburg poem, by way of example, “[The lyrics] ‘Cover me over in dusk and dust and dreams,’ are dream-like and very atmospheric. They use space in an unusual way as each voice has a semi-improvised role in the whispered texture, evoking dusk.” Another song she highlights is “I Wonder as I Wander.” “This one is cosmic—searching under the stars,” Carr says.

While several songs focus on romance, dance, and light, others are deeper, moodier, Carr says, eliciting the complexity of our lives. And, of course, beloved holiday songs will also be featured at the concert, which will take place on December 14 at 7:30 p.m. at St. Paul’s Church in Jersey City.

Now in its 18th year, Cantigas Women’s Choir was founded in 2002 by Joan Isaacs Litman, who directed the group for its first 16 seasons and this year has returned as a member of the alto section. The diverse, inclusive choir is comprised of women ranging in age from 15 to 80, including many women from other countries. The choir draws on a broad spectrum of world music, from ancient to contemporary.

“So many things make Cantigas intriguing,” Carr says. “It has a high concentration of people with a variety of interests and skills whose pastimes take them in different directions. It is a family with a longstanding dedication to music, community outreach, and each other.” In addition to its formal concerts, Cantigas performs regularly at the Edna Mahan Correctional Facility for Women in Clinton, NJ, and at Alaris Health nursing homes. This spring, the group opened at the NEA Big Reads event in Jersey City.

Carr says that she is very impressed by choir members’ ability to sing in different languages. Last year’s rep included songs in 12 languages. “I’m never afraid to program something unusual because the group’s done such things before with Joany.”

The director also says she appreciates how active and responsible members are in helping Cantigas run. “It’s an ecosystem that’s not thrown off by whoever’s directing,” Carr quips, adding, “I never feel it’s top down. We have a really well-organized Board of Directors. It’s great that people don’t hesitate to give me feedback, and they can be sassy, which I love.”

Originally from Ireland, Carr is currently completing a DMA in choral conducting at Rutgers Mason Gross School of Music where she also conducts an undergraduate choir comprised of more than 100 singers.