Aspen Choral Society spring concerts highlight songs by Mack Bailey and Ellen Stapenhorst | AspenTimes.com

Aspen Choral Society spring concerts highlight songs by Mack Bailey and Ellen Stapenhorst

Songs by two longtime local singer-songwriters will be in the spotlight at the Aspen Choral Society's annual spring concert.

Dubbed "Voices of Spring," the performances that began Thursday in Snowmass Village and continue this weekend in Glenwood Springs and Aspen will showcase new arrangements of 10 songs by Mack Bailey and Ellen Stapenhorst for the choir of Roaring Fork Valley singers.

Choral Society director Paul Dankers has written the new arrangements, honoring these two local artists with a timeless treatment from a full choir.

"It's brought tears to my eyes, hearing what Paul has done," said Stapenhorst.

Dankers has gotten to know Bailey and Stapenhorst, and their folky work, through his tenure as music director at the Snowmass Chapel, where the singers frequently perform during services. The selections include songs to bring people together during this acrimonious time in America.

"Paul realized that our music has social themes that are relevant today," said Bailey, who has been on the local music scene since his time with the Limeliters in the mid-80s. "He was thinking outside of the box about how we can get these messages across."

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Bailey's "Two Way Street," for instance, offers a lighthearted take on the hard-line partisanship in American politics. It was inspired by the 2008 presidential election.

"At the time I thought, 'I can't imagine an election being more contentious,'" Bailey said with a laugh.

His "I Should on You, You Should on Me," as the name suggests, is about people telling each other what to do with their lives.

"I like to reach people from the funny bone to hit a part of them that they hold on to and protect," Bailey said.

The selections of Bailey's work also include some deeply personal songs and others he's written during his service as a music therapist.

Along with the new choral arrangements, the concert will feature short solo sets by Stapenhorst and Bailey. Additional songs by each will be performed by what Dankers is calling a "chamber folk orchestra," which includes a bass, violin, cello, mandolin and guitar accompaniment.

Stapenhorst, in her 50 year career, has developed a gentle folk style that's uplifting but not saccharine, spiritual but not religious.

"Throughout my life I've known the power of music and songs to bring about positive change, personally and in the bigger picture," she said. "I do my best to write songs that are honest, uplifting and that bring people together, connecting our common humanity."

Among the selections for "Voices of Spring" is Stapenhorst's seasonally appropriate "First Days of Spring" and her song, "Traveler," a celebration of the western landscape that she wrote in the 1970s when she was traveling around the west with her Aspen-based band Tanglefoot. A Southern California native, Staplehorst cut her teeth as a songwriter in the Los Angeles coffee house scene in the 1960s, playing alongside the likes of Jackson Browne and Glenn Frey. She moved to Aspen in 1971 and hopped between bands and solo gigs during the heyday of local music.

She currently lives in Paonia, but remains a stalwart on the local music scene – her new album "Gravity and Light," was recorded at Cool Brick Studios in Carbondale, with the help of some 25 local musicians. (She'll be performing a solo concert featuring the new songs at Aspen Chapel on April 2.)

Audiences at the Aspen Choral Society concert will hear songs that span the length of Stapenhorst's musical life, including the call to action "If Not You," which she wrote some three decades ago, and "Our World," which she penned just a year ago.

"I've been writing songs so long that they're like my kids," she said. "I've had this hope that some of my songs would make it into the lexicon of folk music. So this is really like a dream come true to have them coming out in this new way. I want my kids to go out and do good in the world."

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If You Go …

What: ‘Voices of Spring,’ presented by the Aspen Choral Society

Where: First United Methodist Church, Glenwood Springs; Aspen Chapel, Aspen

When: Saturday, March 18 in Glenwood; Sunday, March 19 in Aspen, 7 p.m.

How much: $15/advance; $20/at the door

Tickets: Wheeler Opera House box office; http://www.aspenshowtix.com

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