Cambridge RiverSing festival celebrates fall


by Alyssa Persinger, Cambridge Chronicle

Cambridge — A red dragon sporting five different pairs of shoes made its way down JFK Street in Cambridge toward the Charles River from Winthrop Park Sunday surrounded by a marching band, dancing puppets, hula-hoopers, and hundreds of community members. Their destination was the Weeks Footbridge, where the seventh annual Revels RiverSing took place.

“The reason we created [the event] was to make people fall in love with the river, to experience the river and park,” said Renata von Tscharner, founder and president of the Charles River Conservancy, which co-founded the community celebration with Revels seven years ago. “It also celebrates the equinox and beginning of fall.”

Before parading to the river, festivities at Harvard Square’s Winthrop Park included hula-hooping, face-painting, balloon animals, and live music. The procession allowed people to realize how close the river is to Harvard Square, said Denise Jillson, executive director at Harvard Square Business Association.

The parade consisted of handmade puppets, costumes, and masks that community members were encouraged to wear or hold walking towards the river. Even gaggles of geese marched along with the crowd, confused and excited by the music and noise.

When the parade arrived at the river, a group of over 100 singers stepped onto a stage illuminated by sparkling sun-like flags. The group was made up of local choruses, talented amateurs, professionals, and children, according to Revels spokesman Alan Casso. Audience members were encouraged to sing along using lyrics they could print out online or pamphlets that were given away at the river.

“This is not a concert; this is an event that involves all of you,” said George Emlen, Revels music director, during his opening speech.

According to Gayle Rich, executive director of Revels, the first three years of RiverSing were held on both banks of the river, with the chorus standing on the Weeks Bridge, but most people congregated on the Cambridge side. To improve sound and save money, they decided to stage the chorus on the Cambridge side, off to the side of the bridge. Rich said that it takes months and hundreds of volunteers to make the event happen.

“I really believe in what [Revels] supports — tradition — and they do it so beautifully through song, dance, and theater,” said Kristie Rampton, a volunteer for Revels for the last three years. “It’s so incredible to see an event that can bring people together like this.”

The event ended at sunset, with saxophonist Stan Strickland playing on a boat strung with white lights and an illuminated moon and sun. For the last seven years families and friends have come to watch, sing along, dance and picnic along the Charles.

“It’s so cool to be out here with everyone singing, seeing teenagers sing with grandparents,” said Jenny Beavers, from Austin, who was visiting her sister, Shelly Pratt.

“We were looking for all sorts of good stuff to do,” said Pratt. “This is the perfect way to bring in autumn.”

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