The spirit of the season sometimes gets lost in the chaos of Christmas shopping, cooking and decorating.
That’s what inspired Southold resident William Roslak to organize a choral society of young music professionals who perform a yearly holiday concert that’s meant to ignite the true meaning of Christmas.
“Christmas tends to be chaotic and focus on the commercial,” Roslak said. “This is one moment where you can take the time to reflect on what this season is really about.”
The Corchaug Singers, directed by Roslak, will present its third annual performance of “A Candlelit Christmas” at 7 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 23, at Our Lady of Ostrabrama R.C. Church in Cutchogue. There is a $15 suggested donation to attend the show.
The concert is loosely based on the “Service of Nine Lessons and Carols,” which has been performed yearly at Kings College in Cambridge, England, since 1878, and features traditional carols, choral and organ pieces, as well as a variety of holiday readings and poems.
While much of the music and text is religious, the performance is in no way a Mass or meant only for churchgoing folk.
“It’s meant to reach a much broader audience,” Roslak said. “That’s always the goal.”
The actual church, however, is an integral part of the performance.
“To have a transcendent experience while listening to music, you have to be in the right space,” Roslak said. “You have to put your audience where the music belongs, and the music belongs here.”
Roslak’s personal musical roots date back to his early days learning to play the organ inside that very Cutchogue church, but he’s come a long way since he nervously played his first Mass at the age of 10. He went on to study organ and sacred music at Westminster Choir College in New Jersey and was an organ scholar at the Cathedral Bascilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Philadelphia.
He formed the Corchaug Singers, which currently has 14 members, in 2013. All the singers have some kind of professional music training, mostly in voice, and all are from Long Island. Roslak was inspired by a similar Christmas concert he performed in college and wanted to bring the tradition to the North Fork.
Because of the busy nature of the singers’ lives, they’re able to meet for rehearsal only twice before performing. Members get the music in advance and practice on their own, but the bulk of the work happens late into the night a few days before the concert.
“The biggest challenge is coming together just a few days before the concert,” said choir member Kelsey Cheslock of Peconic. “We come from all over to sing together, so to jump in and learn these very intricate choral pieces in just a few rehearsals is very difficult.”
But somehow, under Roslak’s leadership, the group has made it work for the past two concerts and will continue to do so as the years go on.
“I’m always certain to make time for this,” Roslak said. “I hope for it to become a long-term North Fork tradition.”
Photo caption: The Corchaug Singers, lead by William Roslak, will perform at Our Lady of Ostrabama Church on Wednesday, Dec. 23. (Credit: Emily Greenberg)