Forget flooding -- Phoenicia will be all bonfires and carolling today

This afternoon, Phoenicia will put the year's soggy unpleasantness behind it with a community party thrown by a group of local business leaders.

An outdoor Christmas party begins at 4:30pm on what has become the unofficial village square: the now wide-open space where the Phoenicia Hotel stood until burning to the ground three years ago.

Maria Todaro directs the Phoenicia Community ChoirMaria Todaro directs the Phoenicia Community ChoirThe property, located in the middle of the business district on the corner of Main and Church streets, was purchased and cleaned up by local entrepreneur Declan Feehan, who left a deck, a gazebo and a small cottage -- the only structures spared by the flames.

Feehan then met another entrepreneur named Michael Koegel, who leased the property last summer and transformed those remaining structures into Mama's Boy Café and Espresso bar.

On Monday Koegel said the idea for Thursday's festivities came about when he and other organizers began brainstorming in the fall.

“We talked to a bunch of people,” he said. “Mostly merchants and some community-minded people, and we were looking for ways to promote Phoenicia. One of the things quickly decided was that we wanted to do something for Christmas. Then we realized that Maria already has this caroling thing set up.”

By Maria, Koegel means Maria Todaro, a co-founder of the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice, along with her husband Louis Otey and friend Kerry Henderson.

All three world-class opera singers had put together the three day voice festival in August in the park right down the street. Since then, Todaro, who volunteers her time as the director of the Phoenicia Community Choir, has been hard at work with the group of 30 or more singers preparing Christmas carols. The caroling will be an outdoor prelude to a concert of music from the 16th and 17th centuries in the Catholic Church at 6:30pm tonight that will feature  the Voice festival founders and friends in a vocal ensemble called Syntagma Musicum.

For those uninitiated to the world of Baroque and Renaissance music, Otey took time out from rehearsals earlier this week to explain some basics.

“The founders of the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice wanted to contribute a musical offering for the Christmas holidays as a way of saying 'Thank you' to the community for all its support,” he said.

The works that will be peformed are the fruit of a month of research into Baroque and Renaissance music, he said. They are somewhat obscure works by fairly famous composers of their era -- Palestrina, Hassler, Bach, and more -- with texts based on Christmas themes.

"The Pastores Loquebantur ["the shepherds said to one another) by Guerrero (1528-1599)] is based on the shepherds' visit to the manger of the newly born Christ child," Otey said. " Verbum Caro Factum Est ['The Word was made flesh') by Hassler (1562-1612)]  is based on John 1 and talks about Christ the word become flesh living among us. All of these pieces are written for six to eight voices that are all different and intertwine with great elegance and sophistication. These works are precise and difficult in rhythm and harmony but create great emotion for the listeners.”

Otey describes the concert as a labor of love.

“Maria named the ensemble Syntagma Musicum (musical synthesis) based on a book that 17th-century French composer Marin Marais wrote on composition. It's also an homage to a Baroque ensemble which Ms. Todaro created in France. “

The three founders of the Phoenicia Festival of the Voice will be joined by Chuck Sokolowski, his wife, Winnie, and children C.J. and Brittany and Sharon Cucinotta. Barbara Pickhardt of Ars Choralis will accompany. The concert will take place at 6:30pm at the St. Francis de Sales Church on Main Street.

During the caroling there will be a tree lighting at Mama's Boy and a bonfire. All are encouraged to bring musical instruments and warm clothes and join in the fun.

“We're giving out free cookies and hot cider,” Koegel said.