Frederick A. Binkholder, Artistic Director

Jinsun Cho, Assistant Director

The Show Must Go On - Even When the Lights Go Out!

The Capitol Hill Chorale prepped for its Saturday concert like it usually does. Volunteers set up risers. Singers brought treats for the after-concert reception. Warmups were scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m. sharp.

They were ready to kick off their 25th season of music on the Hill.And then the lights went out.

CHC President Kate Hibbs's first thought: "Find the circuit breaker!

"But soon she and the other singers realized that their venue, the Lutheran Church of the Reformation, was far from alone in the problem. The church was one of hundreds of places to lose electricity in a rare Capitol Hill power outage on Saturday night.

Pepco said the power would be back on by 7 p.m.

In the 25 years of the Chorale's existence, none of its venues have ever lost power on a concert night.

Still, with the knowledge that the show must go on, the Chorale got to work. After learning that another church wouldn't be available for a last-minute venue change, the group made the decision to push forward at Reformation with a makeshift candlelight concert. As most of the singers warmed up and rehearsed with only cell phones to provide light upstairs, Hibbs dashed across the street to the Folger Shakespeare Library, which kindly lent its own LED candles for use. Alto Caroline Adams, who is associated with Reformation, helped put together the "candlelight strategy," locating candlesticks, votives and others to be used for the concert and the reception in the downstairs area.

"To paint the picture: Me and Caroline were running around the church like madwomen while rehearsal went on," Hibbs said.

After the short pre-concert warmup wrapped, others pitched in. Tenor Paul Selker provided staging lights and bass JP Barringer rented a power generator so there would be light onstage so singers could read their music. Alto Caitlin McAndrews drove to REI to pick up camping lanterns to light up stairwells and bathrooms. And a local Boy Scout troop, selling trees on the steps of the church, provided flood lights and a generator to light the entryway.

The after-concert reception turned into pre-concert refreshments. As audience members arrived, they were encouraged to enjoy some snacks and drinks in the church's downstairs area, lit up by candles.

The lights weren't on by that promised 7p.m. return, nor were they on when the Chorale took the stage 45 minutes later.

But, as Artistic Director Frederick Binkholder would tell the audience, the candlelight provided a certain 19th century ambience.

The concert itself, made up of early American tunes and church Slavonic music, combined with new works by composer-in-residence Kevin Siegfried, had an almost ethereal feel. Hibbs described it as "magical." (Watch Jvarsa Shensa from Paliashvili's Liturgy of St John Crysostom.)

"Pulling off the concert in the dark clearly speaks to camaraderie, creativity and dedication of this group," she said.

But while many singers and audience members have suggested this become a regular thing for the Chorale, don't expect to see it on the calendar next year, she noted. "We need to figure out a candle wax remediation solution first," she said.

Finding a solution
The logistics team meets to come up with a lighting solution for the stage.

Dramatic lighting to match the candlelight
Generator-fed spotlights and candelabra create a 19th century ambience.

Candlelight reception
Post-concert reception becomes a pre-concert refreshment by candlelight.

Audience filters in
Once the singers were in place, the audience took their seats by the candelabras.

Spotlights and cellphone lights
The concert gets underway with singers sharing cellphone lights.

View from the audience
View from the Audience

View from the audience with Fred
Artistic Director Fred Binkholder took the podium (carefully).

Photos provided by members of the Chorale.