James Kennerley’s transcription of “Carmina Burana” for the Kotzschmar organ will premiere Oct. 2 in Portland. Contributed/ Photo by Tim Greenway

A sea of voices from choirs across Maine, including from area high schools, are joining forces to present Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana,” a well-known and broadly beloved modern choral work, accompanied by an ambitious organ transcription and percussionists.

Friends of Kotzschmar Organ and ChoralArt are collaborating on the performance, which will be held Oct. 2  at Portland’s Merrill Auditorium.

“‘Carmina Burana’ has earned the title of the most popular choral work of the 20th century,” said Bob Russell, conductor for ChoralArt. ” It has lyrical, beautiful melodies, the rhythms are driving and it’s active with excitement.”

The concert will premiere Portland municipal organist James Kennerley’s transcription of “Carmina Burana” for the Kotzschmar. The organ’s 7,101 pipes will replicate an entire symphony orchestra.

“There are moments of’ ‘Carmina’ where it’s barely a whisper, and there are moments that it roars,” Russell said. “James plays so well, and with the colors he draws from the instrument, I don’t think the audience will miss that there is no orchestra on stage. It allows the piece to blossom in a way I’ve never heard before.”

Kennerley will be joined by four Boston-based percussionists, soprano soloist Molly Harmon, baritone soloist and Maine Public Classical host Aaron Engebreth, 80 members of ChoralArt, guest singers from the Portland Community Chorus, and 80 members of high school choirs.


With only the organ and percussion instruments on the Merrill stage, there will be plenty of room for the nearly 200 singers.

Many of the participating high schools haven’t sung the piece before, Kennerly said.

“It’s really exciting for them. They get to hear all the sounds and feel the organ shake them,” he said. “The visual and sonic elements will be utterly thrilling.”

Maddie Yates is one of six Greely High School students to take part in the performance.

The students are eager for their first combined rehearsal Oct. 1 of all the performers.

“I’m almost more excited getting to spend the day rehearsing together than the actual performance, because I think I’ll learn so much from the people I’ll get to meet,” said Maddie Yates, a junior at Greely High School in Cumberland.

Yates and five other Greely students signed on for the performance and independently learned five movements of the complex piece over the summer in preparation.


“It really is a big thing to take on,” she said.

“It’s been the experience of a lifetime,” said Charlotte Blakemore, a senior at  Brunswick High School. “It will be great to see other singers’ techniques and take on the song.”

Her classmate, senior Logan Whelan, also welcomes that opportunity.

“It’s a little bit daunting to sing alongside professional musicians, but it’s also super exciting because I know the quality of the music is going to be mind-blowing,” Whelan said.

Students from Scarborough, Lake Region, Katahdin, Presque Isle and Rangeley Lakes high schools will also be members of the “Carmina Burana” choir.

“We’re excited to invite young singers in,” said Sarah Baily, a soprano with ChoralArt and the director of the Greely High School choirs. ” Their voices are so much more agile than ours. But this is also a chance to show them that singing is not just something that we do in high school. It’s something you can keep doing as an adult.”


The concert will begin at 3:30 p.m., with tickets starting at $38 for adults, $18 for students and no charge for kids under 12.

“I think it’s almost a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Kennerly. “There’s nothing like hearing this music in the Merrill Auditorium because the acoustics are just magnificent.”

This story was updated Sept. 25 to correct the name of the Maine Public Classical host. 

Members of ChoralArt will perform “Carmina Burana,” along with other singers, including high school students. Contributed / Photo by Richard Sawyer


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