Reveling Together Again: Christmas in Lebanon 2021
Brian Cook, executive director of Revels North, and his team are finding innovative ways to bring Christmas Revels to our community. A part of our Upper Valley community since 1975, the Christmas Revels celebration made the move to the Lebanon Opera House in 2019. Cook and his team concocted the idea of a heart-warming animated Revels film for the 2020 season but were determined to have an in-person performance for 2021 and have created a new conceptualization of Revels to make that happen. “We see this as another chance to reinvent what we do. We feel like, let’s have some fun with this. We don’t want to let a little thing like a pandemic interfere with a tradition that goes back to 1975,” Cook said.
This year, Christmas Revels is going to be a two-part extravaganza with both an outdoor portion in Colburn Park that will be free to the public and ticketed events in the Lebanon Opera House.
The outside portion of the program will be, in Cook’s words, “classically Revels,” and feature traditional favorites such as Dona Nobis Pacem, The Shortest Day recitation, and Lord of the Dance. This program will include two half-hour performances daily of the festival at 4 and 5:30pm. “All of the standards of the community chorus and your Christmas Revels will be there, and it will have everything you expect year after year, plus even more happening in the park besides these performances, so we hope it will be both familiar and surprising,” Cook said. New pieces will also be included, such as a hit song from last year’s animated film titled Julian of Norwich, better known as Bells of Knowledge. Cook hopes the free outdoor performance and festival will prove welcoming to newcomers to the Revels: “Hopefully it will be an invitation to people who’ve never tried Revels before to give it a shot.”
The indoor portion of the festival in Lebanon Opera House will be a series of different concerts by three guest artists. “We wanted to capture three performers – each very different from the other and each exceptional at what they do,” Cook said.
The Friday night performance will feature Eden MacAdam-Somer, a composer/performer/improviser who weaves together violin, vocals, and percussive dance. “[Eden’s] range of interest and cultures is staggering,” Cook said. A timely highlight of her performance, Cook believes, will be her knowledge of the music of Afghanistan. “She’s traveled to Afghanistan about six times in the last 15 years and taught at the music school in Kabul. So, she’s soaked in Afghan music, and I anticipate that will be part of her show.”
The Saturday performances feature Dr. Richard Antoine White, a classical tubist. His performance will present his music and life story, which will include a 30-minute documentary about his journey from experiencing homelessness in Baltimore to performing as a world-renowned musician in prestigious symphonies. White also has a personal connection to the area as he grew up with Revels North artistic director Nils Fredland and his performance will feature local musicians. “[White] is coming at a really interesting time in his career,” Cook said, “He just has an amazing life story.”
Finally, Sunday will star Còig, one of Atlantic Canada’s premier Celtic quartets. Hailing from Cape Breton, the three-time Lebanon Opera House veterans are “right in the wheelhouse of Revels” with their passionate performances of traditional and contemporary Celtic music. “This is in line with what audiences have come to expect from Revels in 45 years, so this will be the familiar performance and MacAdam-Somer and White will be something new,” Cook said.
While the theme of this year’s celebration is officially Lighted Candles in the Winter Trees – a line from the recitation The Shortest Day (a Revels regular) – Cook and his compatriots decided not to focus on a particular cultural theme due to the new form of the performance. “This unique situation gave us the flexibility not to focus on one particular culture. We’re hoping that through this festival we are able to capture the overall breadth of interests, cultures, and traditions that Revels likes to explore.”
For Cook, the Christmas Revels is a family affair. From participating in the show in 1981 as a child, to having his children involved in the performance between 2011 and 2017, to acting as director beginning in 2019, Christmas Revels has been a thread throughout Cook’s life. It was his children’s participation in the project that led to his becoming executive director, Cook said.
Cook’s first year with Revels in 2019 ushered in the first performance of the Christmas Revels in Lebanon after making the trek over from Hanover where the show had been performed since 1975. “The first show did really well,” Cook said, “We were delighted with both the Opera House and the town and excited to establish new roots in Lebanon. The Revels community was excited about the Lebanon Opera House.” Cook reports hearing such remarks as: ‘It was so much easier to get parking,’ and ‘We had such a great meal at Three Tomatoes or Salt Hill!’ “Our audience immediately felt good about the new home,” Cook said.
Cook is hoping this year’s festival will continue to deepen the connection with Lebanon and that “the free outdoor portion downtown will be an invitation for people in town to come and give us a look, whether it’s for the first time or the first time in a long time.”
Even before moving to Lebanon, Revels North has had ties to the town. Erling Hystad, a member of the Lebanon city council, has been involved with Revels since the very first show in 1975. Originally behind the scenes, he became a performer and will be in this year’s show. Additionally, the Revels board features Lebanon and West Lebanon residents such as President Kim Rheinlander, Treasurer Mandy Spencer, and board member Karen Zook, owner of Scratch Supply Co. This year’s show also features a recent Lebanon High School graduate, Sam Clifton, who both attended Revels as youngster and first performed in 2019: “It was a great way for Revels to begin a relationship with Lebanon as a community, and the city has been right by our side as we figured out our plans for both last year’s efforts as well as this year’s.” Several members also work in the Lebanon community, in the schools or Upper Valley Music Center. “It’s pretty fun to have Lebanon represented in all generations,” Cook said.
Lebanon has also provided Revels the flexibility to create an event they may not have been able to do in Hanover. “The ability to do what we are doing is made possible by this town. There are eight other cities who perform the Christmas Revels and we’re the only one trying to do something this crazy. The reason we can do it is the proximity of Lebanon Opera House to Colburn Park and the vibrant downtown that surrounds it. This is only because of what Lebanon has to offer.”
Cook is excited about continuing to build the relationship with Lebanon in the future. “The town leadership is excited about the arts and the culture commission is really enthusiastic about us coming to town.” Cook is eager to have “Lebanon families get excited about this and view this as their own.”
Cook notes that Christmas Revels is only possible through the support of the community, such as with a grant from the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation and Mascoma Bank underwriting the festival for the fourth year in a row. He also encourages folks to donate if they like what Revels is doing and want to support offering this to the community for free. In addition to the free outdoor performance, the indoor ticket prices are reduced, and the Saturday matinee will feature an $8 youth ticket.
Cook is most excited about making this year’s festival as broadly available to the public as possible and providing the opportunity for people to gather and celebrate. “I think being able to get people back together in downtown Lebanon this year will be a thrill for all of us, because ultimately that’s what this organization is about. It’s about gathering the community to celebrate.”
The Christmas Revels Festival will be held on December 17, 18, and 19 with free outdoor performances in Colburn Park at 4pm and 5:30pm and activities, vendors, and artists from 3-7pm. Indoor performances at the Lebanon Opera House are at 8pm on Friday, and 1:30 and 7:30pm on Saturday and Sunday. The outdoor performances will be mask optional. LOH will be seating at reduced capacity and requiring masks.