It’s the season to give thanks for our many blessings. For music lovers in southern Maine, Portland’s One Longfellow Square is one of the most prominent of those many blessings. A few months ago the nonprofit arts venue was on the verge of folding due to financial pressures, but OLS recently completed a successful fundraising drive that puts it back in the black.

Two shows at OLS this weekend deserve special mention, and the first happens on “Black Friday.” Singer-songwriter Tom Chapin will return for his umpteenth visit, then on Saturday, an all-star string band holds forth.

Thanksgiving weekend also means the beginning of the Christmas season on the arts and entertainment calendar. One of the biggest annual happenings is Maine State Ballet’s large-scale production of “The Nutcracker,” which opens a two-weekend run on Saturday in Portland.

Another wonderful event is “Joyous Sounds for a Festive Season,” a yearly concert in Portland produced by the University of Southern Maine School of Music.

Tom Chapin

Readers of this column have no doubt noticed that many of the events featured take place at One Longfellow Square. The reason is simple. The Portland music room – re-incorporated as a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit arts presenter about two years ago – is simply the best small concert venue in southern Maine, combining superb programming and a comfy intimate setting.

“It’s like having a house concert every night of the year,” OLS board member Joyce Schmitt said.

OLS ticket sales seldom cover the organization’s full costs. This past summer, accumulating deficits threatened to close the doors forever.

“Three or four months ago I was really worried about whether we would be able to keep the lights on and keep the music playing,” said Matt Stein, OLS board president. The occasion for that comment was last week’s celebratory “soiree,” where it was announced that the organization’s last-ditch fundraising campaign had succeeded.

Starting with a goal of raising $40,000 in 40 days, the final tally is approaching $50,000, contributed by 350 donors.

The music will continue this weekend and well into the future.

One performer who has made many visits to OLS over the years is singer-songwriter Tom Chapin, who plays Friday. In a career that spans five decades, 23 albums and three Grammy awards, the multi-talented singer-songwriter-guitarist has covered an incredible amount of creative ground.

As a music-maker, Chapin has maintained two long and productive parallel careers: contemporary folk artist, and as pioneer in the field of children’s music. His adult concerts feature strong, intelligent songwriting with clear, engaging vocals and the intricate, melodic guitar work that has become his trademark.

Friday’s concert is sure to include old favorites and songs from his latest CDs: “Let The Bad Times Roll,” a collection of thought-provoking songs that hold up a mirror to our times, and “The Incredible Flexible You,” a groundbreaking album which helps young listeners navigate the tricky waters of social interaction.

Catch Tom Chapin at 8 p.m. Nov. 29 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Impromptu string band at OLS

Saturday at One Longfellow Square will feature one of the venue’s signature events: an impromptu gathering of four outstanding musicians who have combined forces for a one-off concert as an un-named impromptu string band.

All four have national reputations among aficionados of folk and roots; two are OLS regulars who live in southern Maine. Mandolinist Joe Walsh has played with Joy Kills Sorrow and The Gibson Brothers; locally he plays with The Stowaways. Fiddler Darol Anger has helped drive the evolution of the contemporary string band through path-breaking ensembles such as his Republic of Strings, the Turtle Island String Quartet and the David Grisman Quintet.

Guitarist Grant Gordy is the newest member of the David Grisman Quintet. Bassist Karl Doty frequently plays with both the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, A Far Cry and Joy Kills Sorrow.

The program hasn’t been announced, but expect some extraordinary music.

Catch this concert at 8 p.m. Nov. 30 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.

Maine State Ballet’s ‘The Nutcracker’

Southern Maine can be thankful for two resident ballet companies that perform “The Nutcracker” each year. First en pointe is Maine State Ballet, which opens its production this weekend.

“The Nutcracker” is a terpsichorean Christmas spectacular, originally choreographed by Marius Petipa to a lush and soaring score by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

The setting is a Christmas Eve party in 19th-century Europe, and the story line revolves around the dreams of a 12-year-old girl. Size and spectacle are among the company’s salient points, with a cast of more than 300 dancers and orchestra musicians.

The company is linked with Maine State School for the Performing Arts of Falmouth. The lead dancers are a husband-wife team who teach there: Glenn and Janet Davis.

Plus there’s a professional live orchestra, led by longtime maestro Karla Kelley Brenner. Two greater Portland youth choral groups will provide the voices for the snow scene: Musica de Filia Girlchoir and Wescustago Youth Chorale.

Seven performances of “The Nutcracker” will be held at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: Nov. 30 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., Dec. 1 at 2 p.m., Dec. 6 at 7 p.m., Dec. 7 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. and Dec. 8 at 2 p.m. Call PortTix at 207-842-0800,

Joyous Sounds for a Festive Season

Among the numerous Christmas concerts I attend each year, one of my personal favorites is “Joyous Sounds for a Festive Season,” an evening of choral works sung by the University of Southern Maine Chamber Singers.

Conducted by Robert Russell, USM professor of music and choral studies, the concert will feature timeless classics, exuberant and uncommon holiday pieces and a USM School of Music student’s world premiere.

“The concert has a wonderful variety, with intimate, inspiring and rousing sounds, and lovely a cappella tuning in a beautiful setting,” said Russell.

The program includes Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Bogoroditse Devo,” modern composer James Whitbourn’s “Prayer of Desmond Tutu,” Tikey Zes’ “Soma Christu” and the world premiere of “Guiding Light,” composed by Matthew Laberge, a USM undergraduate music major.

The Chamber Singers also will perform Benjamin Britten’s “Rejoice in the Lamb.” For “Bethlehemu,” the ensemble’s signature number, alumni are invited onstage to sing.

The concert will conclude with “Silent Night,” Franz Gruber’s treasured classic, sung by mezzo-soprano Carolyn Glaude.

Catch this concert at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 3 at Williston-Immanuel United Church, 156 High St. in Portland. Call the USM music box office at 780-5555.

Sidebar Elements

Maine State Ballet will present “The Nutcracker,” a traditional Christmas favorite, for seven performances Nov. 30-Dec. 8 in Portland.

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