St. Anne’s Church on Lehigh Avenue was transformed into a concert hall this past Friday evening, with the church’s festival choir and orchestra performing in the parish’s annual Christmas concert.
“A Brilliant Christmas,” which featured a repertoire of classical pieces as well as traditional holiday favorites, drew a crowd that far exceeded those of previous years, with more than 275 residents congregating to enjoy the music.
“If you shut your eyes, you’d think you were at Verizon Hall,” Dennis Corkery said following the concert. Corkery, who grew up in the parish but currently resides in Mayfair, noted that many people like himself who moved outside the area find themselves coming back to the old neighborhood.
“It’s a very strong neighborhood. Everyone still feels the connection,” Corkery said.
Fran Dugan and his family continued their annual tradition of attending the performance. Although they also no longer live in the neighborhood they said they still consider Port Richmond and St. Anne’s Parish to be their home.
“We still think of [St. Anne’s] as our parish. The community, the friends, we really miss it all,” said Dugan, whose 9-year-old son, John, sat front row center from the performance’s beginning to end.
“I really liked the choir, I think that was my favorite part,” John said.
Orchestra and choir conductor Nick Pignataro said he hopes the concert would break the audience and performer barrier and appeal to a wide audience.
ldquo;We have something for everyone,” Pignataro said, adding that he wanted the occasion to celebrate the tightly knit community. “There’s such a sense of pride here. This is the most energetic audience we’ll have all year.”
The performance was free and open to the public, encouraging people of all ages and backgrounds to come out and experience classical music performed by local people.
“This gives us the opportunity to provide local, inexpensive access to the arts,” Pignataro said.
The audience awarded standing ovations after several pieces during the performance.
The orchestra featured musicians from Temple University as well as the Curtis Institute of music. Trumpet soloist Eric Schweingruber, who is a member of the Philadelphia Orchestra, performed in several pieces as well.
“There’s not a lot of local performances like this,” Schweingruber said. “I think bringing music like this to the people is very special, and extremely important.”
The festival choir, whose members come primarily from Port Richmond and Fishtown, range in age from 15 to adult and have a variety of musical backgrounds.
“A lot of the members don’t read music,” lifelong choir member Claire Gardiner said. “Nick is very patient with all of us.”
Gardiner, a fourth-generation Port Richmond resident, said she embraces the opportunity to share music with the surrounding community.
Debra Homer, who has lived in Fishtown for more than 60 years and attended St. Anne’s school as a child, is in her second year as a member of the festival choir.
“Nick makes it easy for all of us,” Homer said. “It’s a really fun group of people, lots of camaraderie.”
Christina Sokol of Fishtown has been a member of the choir for almost two decades.
“It’s something that brings life back into the neighborhood,” said Sokol, who has often brought her children to practice as they grew up. She said she could definitely see some of them following in her footsteps.
“My daughter, who’s 5, would absolutely do it,” Sokol said.
The Rev. Ed Brady said the turnout for this year’s performance was outstanding, and hopes it will continue to grow the community as the years progress.
“Our aim is to benefit everybody,” Brady said. “Everything we do is for the larger community as a whole.”
Pignataro said the concert was his way of giving back to the community. “It’s such a generous community, everyone always wants to give back. This is the only way I know how to do that, through good music.”