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I Witness: the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice


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The inaugural Phoenicia Festival of the Voice took place in our local Catskills village this past weekend, August 13-15, and by all standards, was a runaway hit. Envisaged by local opera singers Kerry Henderson, Louis Otey and Maria Todaro after a successful fund-raiser last summer for children’s playground equipment in the Parish park, the Festival leaned towards the classical and the classics, with the main events in the Park including a vocal recital, a performance of Verdi’s opera “Falstaff,” and a Sunday afternoon finale featuring several local choirs. Still, the organizers were keen to embrace as many different elements of the human voice as initially possible. To that extent, the Festival also included a “gospel” recital in the local Protestant church, a “sacred” music recital in the local Catholic church, a cautious foray into world music, a piano recital by the renowned Justin Kolb featuring the powerful spoken word of local resident Jay Braman (see picture below), the opening of the new musical Closer Than Ever at the Shandaken Theatrical Society (which is ongoing through this coming weekend) and a performance by the village’s own children’s favorite Uncle Rock at the Phoenicia Railway Museum.

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All the indoor events was sold out or standing room only, while the Saturday night performance of Falstaff drew as many as a thousand people to the Park, the biggest crowd to congregate there in memory. (See pictures below.) Even a torrential rain storm on Sunday afternoon failed to fully dampen the spirits of those who came to hear the choirs, of children and adults alike, perform everything from “Amazing Grace” to “Rock Around The Clock.” Thankfully, the organizers had thought ahead to erect a large covered tent.

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According to Jay Braman’s report in the Daily Freeman, the Festival was such a success that planning for next year (and beyond) has already begun. While I freely admit that not every aspect of the Festival appealed to my own musical tastes, I was as delighted as the next resident to see the event prove such a triumph. Congratulations are due not only to the trio of Henderson, Otey and Todaro for imagining it, but to all the many local residents who began the hard work of physical organization so many months ago, to the dozens of volunteers who pitched in over the weekend (including my wife and older son), and to all the local businesses and individuals who welcomed it, recognizing that such an event could only make Phoenicia that much more phenomenal.

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