A ‘Brilliant’ evening at St. Anne’s

The an­nu­al Christ­mas con­cert at the church helps provide ‘in­ex­pens­ive ac­cess to the arts,’ and per­formers in­clude many people from both Port Rich­mond and Fishtown.

  • Conductor Nick Pignataro (right) leads the St. Anne orchestra, which featured trumpet soloist Eric Schweingruber (left). CAROLAN DIFIORE/STAR PHOTOS

  • Conductor Nick Pignataro leads the St. Anne orchestra. CAROLAN DIFIORE/STAR PHOTOS

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.”

You can reach at cdifiore@bsmphilly.com.

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