Bath Christmas show celebrates community, holiday spirit

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BATH — Snow didn’t deter holiday music enthusiasts from attending the city’s 42nd annual “Sing! It’s Christmas” concert Monday evening.

Sarah Rhoades and her sister, Sybil Becker, drove all the way from Kittery to the community singalong.

“We have friends here in Bath, and we’re coming for our annual Christmas celebration,” Rhoades said on her way to her seat. “We have a wonderful time.”

Becker recently moved to Kittery from Asheville, North Carolina, “so this is my first time here,” she said.

Knowing the wintry weather facing them, “we left about 2:30, 3 p.m.,” Becker added. “It was an interesting trip.”

“We’ll remember this for a long time,” Rhoades said with a laugh.

The concert began at 7 p.m., offering a mix of performances from acts such as the Morse Concert and Mixed Choir, the Studio 48 Performance Team, Andy Barber and Pretty Girls.

The show is also known for involving the audience. In between acts, longtime concert orchestrators such as Martha Mayo and Joanne Marco encouraged people to rise from their seats and belt out a medley of Christmas classics.

Admission was free, with donations appreciated. The approximately $500 raised last year went into operating expenses for the 170-year-old former church building. Heat is such a cost that once the arts center winds up its New Year’s celebration, it closes off the church and moves shows to the cozier Annex during Maine’s most bitter winter months.

“As an organization, we jam up Christmas with shows, create the revenue, and then we live modestly January, February and March,” Executive Director Jennifer DeChant said as Monday’s concert was winding up. “And we move next door and program out of the Annex downstairs.”

“We turn off the water, we turn off the furnace,” she said. “(The church) becomes a tomb.”

The event is also about bringing in new people – audience members and performers alike.

Many of the teenagers involved in the Morse High School choir had never set foot inside the church, DeChant said, “so that’s another way to get people across our threshold, which we’re really excited about.”

The first “Sing!” was held Dec. 22, 1975, at the Winter Street Church, to celebrate the finale of a fundraising campaign for the Maine Maritime Museum, according to information provided by Mayo. Referred to as Mrs. Raymond Huotari in the museum newsletter at the time, Mayo helped lead the carols.

The event, which has been held consistently at the church since the 1980s, has continued to pack the house over the years. Even given Monday’s weather, the main seating was filled, as was some of the balcony.

“They come to sing, and we get them to stand up,” Mayo said. “It’s wonderful.”

“And it’s a free event,” Marco added. “Nobody really puts on events that everybody gets to come to, particularly at venues like this. It always costs.”

“The fact that the church … brings the schools in for nothing, then they do something like this, that invites the whole community of all ages, it’s nice,” she added.

“Sing!” has never missed a last-Monday-before-Christmas performance in 42 years, Mayo said. So it was a sure bet that a little snow wasn’t going to shut things down.

“Absolutely not,” Marco said.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

Martha Mayo, left, and Joanne Marco look on as Lucy Ingraham plays piano during a warmup for the 42nd annual “Sing! It’s Christmas” concert in Bath on Dec. 18.

Martha Mayo, a part of the “Sing! It’s Christmas” celebration since its 1975 debut, leads the audience at the Chocolate Church Arts Center in Bath in crooning “Angels We Have Heard on High.”

A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.