Southern serenade Sunday: Bel Canto to close concert season at St. Mark’s

‘A Southern Serenade to Spring’ will flow through the sanctuary of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Sunday at 4 p.m.

The concert will feature the Bel Canto, the women’s ensemble part of the Choral Society of West Georgia, and Bow ‘N’ Banjo, a husband and wife team who play the banjo and cello. Other instruments typically considered part of southern and Appalachian music will also be used as part of the concert.

“When I focused on the southern serenade element of it, I wanted something a little unique,” said Bettie Biggs, the artistic director for the Choral Society of West Georgia. “It is a smaller concert with a smaller choir of women [compared to other choral society concerts].”

The concert will feature four spiritual pieces and three love ballads.

“It’ll have two southern elements,” Biggs said. “The first will be Appalachian music. We are doing some very, very well-known Appalachian love ballads. Love ballads in Appalachian music have crossties with a lot of Scottish, Irish, English music, so interestingly, a lot of things that you find in the Scottish and the Irish music found their way deep into the Appalachians and because they were so isolated for so long, the music has just become an entity unto itself.”

Bow ‘N’ Banjo’s members, Erica Ransbottom and Jody Hughes, will perform both with the ensemble and in stand-alone songs.

“It will be myself on the banjo and then my wife is actually going to be playing the cello,” Hughes said. “We have a group called Bow ‘N’ Banjo, and we will be playing what you would probably characterize as Appalachian music — everything from folk music to more bluegrass sounding songs.”

The couple plays everything from jazz to pop at events, but Hughes said he enjoys the style that will be featured in the concert because of the raw, untethered sound of the acoustic instruments.

“People use the words raw and pure in that it is acoustic music, so there are no processed sounds in it,” Hughes said. “It is very much an oral tradition as well. They sight read music and read a lot of sheet music in classical and jazz and things like that, but with this type of music, it is a lot of just listening to recordings or someone showed you how to play. So, I think that the purity of it is the appeal of it.”

Biggs said that she thought the couple would bring something special to the concert that will compliment Bel Canto’s performance.

“Jody [Hughes] is going to do a banjo ballad based on The Cuckoo, so we’ll have two different arrangements of it,” Biggs said. “We’ll have a choral arrangement that the choir will do, and then we’ll bookend that with Jody on banjo doing a blue grass, Appalachian version of The Cuckoo. They will be in contrast but with the same thematic material.”

The concert will be the sixth and final performance of the Choral Society of West Georgia’s 2017-2018 concert season. Bel Canto is the women’s section of the choral group.

“We are closing our season with this concert, so we will have a reception following, which is included in the price of the ticket,” Biggs said. “The choir has been performing now with this literature for about 13 or 14 years. These are the women who start in the fall and for the most part see it through to the end. It is a short rehearsal time, so it is very condensed and rehearsals are very intense to get the music up to performance standards.”

This concert season, the choral society has seen big crowds at several concerts, and Biggs is excited to begin planning the next season.

“It has been spectacular,” Biggs said. “Everything that we’ve done has been well-received, and of course, the highlight of the whole season was ‘The Songs That Won the War’ and being able to honor the veterans and to share that kind of music was a very, very special evening for all of us and me personally.”

Tickets cost $15 each and include a reception following the concert. Tickets are on sale at Tournesol, Plum Southern, from any member of Bel Canto and at