Midwinter Revels Chorus Spotlight – Heather Koerber Nunes and Jake Nunes
Heather Koerber Nunes and Jake Nunes are no strangers to the Revels stage – they have been in eight and seven Revels shows respectively over the past twelve years! Their love for Revels has become a family affair for Heather, Jake, and their three children, and even bleeds into their work as math teachers at Shady Hill School, the institution where Revels founder Jack Langstaff once taught music. Revels Digital Communications Manager Sydney Roslin sat down with Heather and Jake in the middle of a busy tech week to learn more about their Revels experiences and chat about Midwinter Revels: A Solstice Celebration – Tales from Ellis Island.
Sydney: How did you both find your way to Revels at the start?
Heather: I grew up in New Hampshire, and we had a family friend who was familiar with Revels from the original days. She took it upon herself to gather neighborhood children, teach us Revels songs, and find opportunities for us to perform at various places like nursing homes – we were the Little Pond Carolers. So I grew up knowing the music and loving the music, but when I was a child, I rarely saw the show in Cambridge. When I moved to Cambridge – I went to Harvard and then we lived in the area – we started seeing the shows again. Then one day, we thought, “Oh, maybe this is something we can do!” We’ve been completely hooked ever since.
Jake: The initial impetus for our auditioning was that we had a five-year-old, who is now nineteen, who was born for the stage – beautiful voice, really extroverted, and loves to perform. We thought this would be a great outlet for her, so all three of us auditioned for the 2011 French show. Heather and I got in, but our daughter was not taken into the children’s chorus that year – she was taken into the children’s chorus the next year for the Irish show. So I bowed out, because someone had to be with our three kids at home, and Heather performed in 2011.
S: Jake, did you also sing and perform while you were growing up?
J: Oh yes. I was one of the few middle school and high school boys who chose to be in the chorus, and I continued in college to the extent that I could. I’ve always loved singing. When I taught for a year in Portland, Oregon, I showed up at 7:30 two days a week just so I could have a chance to sing choral music with the high school glee club.
S: What are some of your favorite Revels memories from over the years?
H: There are so many favorite moments. Each experience is unique, and I love the challenge, for example, of learning to sing in Icelandic, or Swedish, or Yiddish. But in terms of moments on stage, I got to be dressed as a giant lobster in the Irish show of 2012.
J: I was the dragon in the 2013 Spanish show – best dragon ever!
H: This year, I’m playing the Golem, and I do a dance with the children, this group of lovely second- through eighth-grade kids,
J: One of my favorite memories is actually one that happens every year. In my first show, we were doing vocal warmups, and George Emlen, who was the music director then, would pick a song to sing from the show to warm up. I realized that we all had this huge amount of music in us. At the drop of a hat, we were able to burst into four-part harmony on a show’s worth of songs. Each year you get to that point in the process where you’ve just internalized all of that music, and it feels great.
S: This is a busy time of year, and you’re both full-time teachers. How do you balance it all when it comes to December and tech week?
H: It’s just about organizaiton and thinking ahead. Basically, we’re doing a full-time job here, and then during tech week we go to our second shift, so I feel like I’m living a double life, just where one of those lives is a beautiful, magical, fantasy storytelling event on stage. There are some long days, but it’s absolutely worth it for us to plan ahead and make the most of it.
S: I know Revels founder Jack Langstaff taught at Shady Hill as well. Can you speak a little more about how Revels and Jack’s legacy makes an appearance at Shady Hill today?
H: We would have all-community sings. There are songs that the entire community is taught – the songs have changed over the years, but I think that tradition must have been created by Jack. We also have a May Day celebration every year! Every grade choreographs a dance, and the entire grade dances. We also do the ‘Obby ‘Oss and sing “Unite and Unite,” both of which are definitely of the Padstow tradition.
J: We close with the May Day Carol, and the eighth graders do a Maypole dance, with the weaving and unweaving of the ribbons.
S: Going back to this year’s show, what would you say makes Tales from Ellis Island different from other shows that you’ve done with Revels? What’s something special about this year’s show?
H: We have endured every single rehearsal singing in masks, so the first time we got on stage and we could take off our masks, it was wonderful to just look around at people’s smiling faces. I think that the extra hardship that we’re all enduring has brought us closer. Elijah’s put in a ton of work in too – it’s no small thing to take a chorus standing in masks and to teach us how to listen and sing together under those circumstances.
J: There’s also a whole new group of young chorus members this year. For the most part, you see the same faces every year – Paddy even gave a speech about how some of us are like barnacles stuck to the ship of Revels. But some of the new choristers are actually people we remember being in the children’s choir many years ago. Now they come back and they’re all grown up.
H: I’m singing in a quartet with Franny Bester, who was in my very first show as a member of the children’s chorus. Getting to know her again as an adult is really wonderful.
S: What’s your favorite song from this show?
H: For me, it’s “Es Ist Ein Ros’ Entsprungen”, or “Lo, How a Rose E‘er Blooming,” where I get to sing in this quartet on a very challenging verse in English, My son, who has been coming to Revels shows for years, also said that every time the women’s chorus gathers together, he knows it’s going to be amazing. We do have a women’s chorus song this year, “Ojitos Negros,” so the expectations are high for that.
J: I’m having a really good time with “Canción Mixteca” which is a sentimental Mexican folk song.
H: We dance together during that song and every time, he sings it really loudly in my ear!
S: What do you want people to get out of Midwinter Revels: A Solstice Celebration – Tales from Ellis Island?
H: The message of the show is to think carefully about who you are and the decisions you make. But I also want people to walk away with the joy that we all feel on stage. It’s a give and take – people come, they smile, we smile.
J: I would say that people come to Revels expecting to hear amazing musical performances, to see traditional dances, and to be told a good story. With the sort of message that Paddy is weaving throughout the story, it would be nice if they also came away pondering that message.
H: Yes, I think one of the things that has made Revels so successful is that it connects people very personally to their past and their traditions while also constantly introducing you to new traditions and new ideas. You get that wonderful, warm feeling of it being the holiday season and also, whether you’re learning to sing in Spanish or just watching someone sing in Spanish, you’re learning something new. That’s a really powerful feeling.
S: Is anything you’d want people to know about the show before they come?
H: One thing I love about Revels is the community, and the way it genuinely builds community from the very young to the very old across really diverse experiences. I think that’s something that Revels does really well. So I would tell people to love the old and embrace the new.
J: And I think that a big part of the work that Revels is doing these days is looking at the ways it needs to adapt to the way things are now while still holding on to such important traditions. As a society, as a community, as a country – we’re all figuring it out, and Revels is a part of all of that.
Don’t miss Heather, Jake, and the rest of the cast of The Midwinter Revels: A Solstice Celebration – Tales from Ellis Island from December 16-28 in Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre! Tickets are on sale for all 13 shows, matinees and evenings, at revels.org/midwinter.