Does Planet Earth need our songs?  “Not really,” says Nym Cooke, Music Director of the chorus Wings of Song.  “But she certainly needs our help, and singing can be a way of broadcasting that need.”

Wings of Song, centered in Sturbridge, draws its 40 singers from a wide swath of south-central Massachusetts and northeastern Connecticut.  Cooke and many of his singers are concerned about what we’re doing to our one and only home, and feel that the time has come to speak out—to sing out!—then take concerted, joyous action to make things better.

Wings of Song’s Spring program is named “Blue Boat Home” after a song by Peter Mayer that celebrates the Earth.  There will be three performances: at St. Joachim Chapel, part of St. Anne/St. Patrick Parish in Fiskdale, on Saturday, May 13th at 7:30pm; at the First Congregational Church on the Common in Woodstock, Connecticut, on Saturday, May 20th at 7:30pm; and in the auditorium of the Shepherd Hill Regional High School in Dudley, on Sunday, May 21st at 3pm.  The concerts are free, with a freewill offering collected at intermission.  All venues are handicap accessible, and refreshments will be served after each concert.  

A glance at the program’s running order shows its tremendous variety.  Take just the first four numbers.  The show begins with a projected image of the Earth as photographed by Voyager 1 from 3.7 billion miles away, and Carl Sagan’s poetic reflections on that image.  This is followed by a prayer to “Mother Earth” by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh.  “Wake Up!” by Wings of Song soprano Donna Dufresne is next: an exhortation to us all to “be the Earth’s voice” and “make a mighty noise.”  And then comes Mayer’s “Blue Boat Home,” with its refrain “The wide universe is the ocean I travel, And the Earth is my blue boat home.”  

And so it goes—a carefully-woven quilt of choral numbers, vocal solos, readings, instrumental solos (including Oxford’s Tim Loftus playing a Native American style flute), audience singalongs, and projected images.  Songwriters include Pete Seeger, John Lennon, Leonard Bernstein, Wings of Song’s own Terry McGinty, Neil Young, Marvin Gaye, J. S. Bach, Elton John, and Jean Ritchie.  

A special feature of the May 21st performance will be opening remarks by Melissa Hoffer, Massachusetts’s first-ever “Climate Chief.”   The chorus will donate a portion of its audience’s freewill offerings to an organization working to slow down and eventually stop and reverse climate change.

People are advised to arrive a little early to be sure of a seat—and, if the first two concerts turn out to be standing room only, it’s probably a safe bet to come to the 800-seat Shepherd Hill auditorium on May 21st.  All Wings of Song members are working hard to put the finishing touches on their large and exciting program.  “This is our most elaborate and wide-ranging program ever,” says Cooke.  “And the planet—our Blue Boat Home—deserves nothing less.”


At Nazareth, in Galilee,

Hear now the angel’s voice:

“Hail Mary, thou Mother of God,

The Lord has made his choice.”


Sung by a single soprano, these lines are like a trumpet call.  They signal the news that Archangel Gabriel brings to the young virgin Mary of Nazareth; they also signal the start of the Celtic Noëls. 


This group of pieces was recorded by the community chorus Ensemble Choral du Bout du Monde (Choral Ensemble from the Edge of the Earth) partly in a studio and partly in the Abbaye (Abbey) Saint-Guénolé de Landévennec in far western Brittany, France, in 1997.  They were released on the CD Noëls Celtiques (Green Linnet Records) in 1998; the disc has since won several awards.

“From the rich cultural heritage of the Celts in Brittany, a stunning collection of traditional and contemporary vocal music for the holidays, sung in Breton by this world-class choral ensemble from France” is how the Celtic Noëls are described on the CD.  They are indeed stunning: deeply devotional, charmingly melodic, a winning blend of folk, popular, classical, and church-hymn influences.

Nym Cooke, Music Director of the Quinebaug Valley Singers (now Wings of Song), heard this music in 2004 and was bowled over.  He and his daughter Thalia Slocombe soon set to work making English “singing versions” (rhymed and metered) of the texts.  That Christmas, QVS and a Barre, Mass. chorus, the Band of Voices, presented the world premiere of the English-language Celtic Noëls. 

The Quinebaug Valley Singers performed the Celtic Noëls two more times, partnering with the Band of Voices again (along with Nym’s school chorus) in 2008 and combining with the Quaboag Choral Society in 2015.  This year, Wings of Song is pleased to offer this gorgeous music once again to audiences in south-central Massachusetts and northeastern Connecticut.

The Celtic Noëls are not only a celebration of Christmas from a Christian perspective; they are an affirmation of Brittany’s own culture, and of Celtic culture in general.  The particular flavor of Celtic music comes across strongly here: sometimes a little wild, often with a feeling of closeness to large, untamable, natural forces.  Thunder, wind, even bird-cries are in this music, and instruments other than voices are crucial here: the Noëls call for a band comprised of high sopranino recorder, acoustic guitar, piano, and church organ, as well as a gigantic drum and an equally colossal gong.

In recognition of Brittany’s own language, which is much closer to other Celtic tongues such as Welsh than it is to French, and which is also a badge of cultural identity for the Breton people, the chorus will sing verses in several songs in Breton.  The first half of the concert will be comprised of French pieces for Christmas from several centuries—again, largely sung in English.  The concert as a whole promises a deep dive into a hauntingly beautiful repertory of music for the season.