Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXI, No. 47
 
Wednesday, November 21, 2007
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Princeton’s Rich Choral Tradition Will Benefit Youngsters in Africa

Linda Arntzenius

Last year, as Tom Meagher was enjoying the Christmas festivities and listening to the ethereal voices of the American Boychoir on his favorite CD of all time — Hallmark Presents the Tradition of Christmas with Harry Belafonte — he had an idea.

What if some of that warm feeling he was experiencing could be channeled in a concrete way to relieve some of the world’s suffering?

The result is A Princeton Christmas: For the Children of Africa, a compilation of performances by eight Princeton choral groups, now on sale for $30 that will go directly to the School Feeding campaign of the United Nations World Food Program (WFP) in Africa.

“This project resulted from a combination of guilt and love of Christmas music,” said Mr. Meagher. “For years I read about hungry children in Africa and felt terrible but never did anything much about it — I’m sure a lot of folks feel that way— then in listening to music by some of the outstanding choral groups in Princeton, I thought, here’s a way to get this wonderful music out to people and find a small way to help the children in Africa.”

Mr. Meagher, who was born in Princeton — his father Bill Meagher, was a patent attorney for RCA — now lives in Lawrenceville with his wife Debbie Meagher. The couple will celebrate their 25th anniversary in April. Their sons Dylan, 13, and Cody, 10, attend Princeton Academy of the Sacred Heart, which Mr. Meagher was instrumental in founding. Their daughters Haley, 17, and Caitlin,12, attend Stuart Country Day School, and so Mr. Meagher thought immediately of the school’s Tartantones.

“Stuart is extremely pleased to play a part in this new tradition, another example of our students living the Sacred Heart goals since it engages musicians and educates our neighbors about the needs that exists in other parts of the world,” said headmistress Frances de la Chapelle, whose response to the idea was typical.

“The project went quickly because every school we approached, from high schools to Princeton University, believed in the mission and couldn’t wait to participate,” Meagher said.

University President Shirley A. Tilghman, who once served as a secondary school teacher in Sierra Leone, said that the University was proud to be part of “this remarkable grassroots initiative to help the children of Africa.”

Mr. Meagher’s initial plan was to gather choral groups in the Princeton area for a concert performance. But when the challenge of finding a point when all of their schedules coincided proved overwhelming, the project evolved into a Christmas CD, to which all of the groups donated recordings.

A partner at Duane Morris LLP, where his focus is patent litigation and licensing, Mr. Meagher paid for the production costs. “All proceeds from the purchase of downloads, from the website, and soon through other sites including iTunes, or CDs will go to the WFP,” said Mr. Meagher. “We fully expect this to be the beginning of a new and lasting holiday tradition.”

Karen Sendelback, President and CEO of Friends of the World Food Program, was also receptive to Mr. Meagher’s idea of teaming with the Princeton community in an effort to help feed the children of Africa. “It is amazing and heartwarming to see the different ideas that people come up with to help raise funds for hungry children,” she said. “Mr. Meagher’s concept will have a dramatic impact in the lives of others, which will be felt long after the holiday season has ended.”

“The sale of A Princeton Christmas will provide hungry schoolchildren with nutritious meals in the short-term and help ensure their chances of staying in school in the long-term,” said Ms. Sendelback. “A combination of food and education will help ensure a more prosperous and healthy future.”

According to Mr. Meagher, the $30 purchase will feed one African child for nearly three months and the purchase of one download will feed a child for two days. He is interested in working with local groups that might help with the sale. CDs can be supplied to groups wishing to join in the effort. Mr. Meagher has offered to foot the bill for the manufacture of the first 1,000 copies and hopes to enlist other donors if more copies are needed. All checks will be made out to “Friends of the World Food Program (APC)” and then mailed directly to Derry Deringer, Director, Major Gifts, Friends of the World Food Program (USA), 1819 L Street NW, Suite 900, Washington, DC 20036.

While a minimum price of $30 is being asked for each CD, people are encouraged to donate more if they can. “Any group that wants to get a large number of them can write such a check to Friends of the World Food Program at $30 per CD, I’ll give them the CDs, and they could distribute them freely,” he said. “They make great Christmas gifts.”

Interested groups should call Mr. Meagher at (908) 907-3377.

Commenting on the production, recording engineer John Baker said: “I’ve done some charity CDs before but this one is special; it’s a wonderful project with choral groups from a town that is one of the most culturally rich in the nation; it was a pleasure to be involved.”

A full-time professional recording engineer, Mr. Baker has recorded many of the groups on A Princeton Christmas for years — he accompanied the Princeton High School choir on their recent trip to Sweden. He puts together the Carols for Christmas concert produced for Public Radio International (PRI) and broadcast by many public radio stations on Christmas day. “This project would not have been possible without John’s help, the hard work put in by the website and CD designers, Martin Olech and Evelyn Good, and, of course, the wonderful choirs and their directors,” said Mr. Meagher.

A Princeton Christmas: For the Children of Africa, produced in conjunction with the U.S.-based Friends of the World Food Program, offers an hour of 20 songs by eight Princeton-based student choral groups, including the American Boychoir.

Highlights

The American Boychoir performs “Ding Dong! Merrily On High” and “In The Bleak Midwinter.” The Princeton Day School Choir Madrigal Singers perform the traditional carol, “Hark, I Hear The Harps Eternal.” The Princeton Girlchoir presents a 14th century German melody, “Personent Hodie,” recorded in 1999 at their December concert at the Princeton University Chapel, as well as an arrangement by Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne of “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!” from a performance on the NBC-TV Today Show in 2002. The CD also features the Girlchoir performing “Sleigh Ride” and Benjamin Britten’s “New Year Carol.”

The Princeton High School Choir can be heard singing “Hodie Christus Natus Est,” from a December 1998 concert at the Princeton University Chapel, and the French carol “Célébrons La Naissance,” recorded in Uppsala Cathedral on their trip to Sweden last February.

The Princeton University Chapel Choir presents “The First Nowell,” as arranged by Ralph Vaughan-Williams from their 2001 concert at the Princeton University Chapel, as well as six other pieces from seasonal concerts in the university chapel: “How Brightly Shines The Morning Star,” “Adam Lay Ybounden,” “Sussex Carol,” the traditional Icelandic carol “Mariabaen,” with soprano Hulda Sif Olafsdottir, “Nativity Carol, and the traditional Flemish carol “Kerstlied.”

Stuart Country Day School’s The Tartantones are heard singing “Night Of Silence,” and “This Christmastide.”

Westminster Choir of the Westminster Choir College of Rider University sings “The Hills Are Bare At Bethlehem,” and the Westminster Concert Bell Choir presents Tchaikovsky’s “Marche From The Nutcracker.”

For more information about A Princeton Christmas, visit www.princeton christmas.org, or www.friendsofwfp.org

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