Christmas with The Colorado Choir – Nov. 30 and Dec. 1
Preview article by Betsy Schwarm
Christmas choral concerts come in many varieties. Some are packed with familiar carols and songs, giving audience members the opportunity to join in the singing. Others, focusing on music requiring more developed technique, are likely better suited for listening than for singing along, but are no less satisfactory for audiences. Many include selections drawn from various cultures, not just for the sake of diversity, but also to offer new musical discoveries to the audience. Then there’s The Colorado Choir, which this Christmas offers all of the above.
American composers will be well-represented on the programs, particularly Alfred Burt (1920 – 1954). Some composer/arrangers might make do with crafting new settings of the familiar carols, but Burt found greater satisfaction in writing new ones, over a dozen in all, despite his tragically short life. Vocal ensembles great and small, from local church choirs to the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, have made room in their programs for Burt’s music. Burt’s greatest his is likely Caroling, Caroling, though The Colorado Choir will offer five others no less evocative of the season and equally finely crafted. It is often fulfilling to look further into a composer’s catalog, and that is certainly the case here.
Joining Burt in the American contingent will be African-American composer William Dawson (1899 – 1990), whose re-imaginings of old spirituals preserve the traditional moods while creating subtle balance between the parts. Bohemian master Dvořák, who had immense admiration for spirituals, declaring them to be a treasurable resource if one were seeking to compose something truly American in spirit, would certainly have been impressed with Dawson’s creations.
Also North American, at least for much of his life, was London-born, Toronto-based composer/organist Healey Willan (1880 – 1968); two of his works will be on the program. Having been raised in the tradition of English cathedral music, his music is as atmospheric and nuanced as beloved settings by Vaughan Williams and John Rutter. Alto first chair, treasurer, and board member Sonja Drugan says her favorite work on the program is Willan’s The Three Kings. Rather than being an arrangement of the old carol We Three Kings, Willan’s work stands on its own as an imagining of the Magi who also find “no room at the inn,” yet persist – resolutely, but serenely – in their mission.
Further international Christmas offerings will come from France, Austria, and pre-Soviet Russia. The last of these, Pavel Tschesnokoff’s Salvation is Created (1912) is rich with the peaceful reverence that one finds in the very best Russian Orthodox tradition. For a truly authentic atmosphere, imagine your own onion domes – or French or Austrian country churches.
Those who feel the season is not complete until one has raised one’s own voice in celebration of Christmas will have the opportunity, and even a reminder of the texts in those later verses one may have never memorized. Do you know all the words to all the verses of Carol of the Bells? This writer did not! All texts of all selections (even the choir-only ones) will be in the program; The Colorado Choir has found that its audience members appreciate having that resource at hand.
As to a “complete” Christmas feeling, one ought not forget Handel’s Messiah. Admittedly, it premiered in Ireland in 1742 at the Easter season. However, one-third of the work is specifically about Christmas, and it is a rare Christmas program that does not at least find space for the Hallelujah Chorus. For The Colorado Choir, that beloved and uplifting chorus is just the thing to bring a Christmas concert to the perfect conclusion. In all, The Colorado Choir will be offering a varied selection of pieces that the ensemble’s conductor Kelly Parmenter says she hopes will serve as “a vehicle to help carry you home, remembering Christmases past, and anticipating the joys of Christmases to come.”
Sonja Drugan, who has sung with The Colorado Choir since 1990, says she stays with the ensemble because of “the feeling you get when you listen to us, not the sound you hear.” What is that feeling? Perhaps the heart-touching, soul-filling possibilities found in a perfectly prepared choral ensemble performance. It is, after all, the voice of our species, honed into exquisitely expressive form. When that form also serves to capture the spirit of a sacred season, it may become all the more powerful.
Revel in it with The Colorado Choir’s Christmas concerts at Augustana Lutheran Church, 5000 East Alameda, a short distance west of Colorado Blvd. There are two opportunities: Friday, November 30, and Saturday, December 1. Both begin at 7:30pm, though the Friday performance is distinct in that it includes a post-concert reception: always well-attended and a lovely opportunity to mingle with the choir members and other audience members so as to share thoughts about the music – and the season. As conductor Kelly Parmenter says, “It’s not a cup of hot cocoa, but it’s close!”
Further details and tickets may be found at https://coloradochoir.org/performances/ . Those wishing to preview the sound of the choir in advance will find links on the website. Recordings will be available at the performances. Having been founded in 1976, The Colorado Choir has a wealth of experience in the repertoire and a host of favorites both old and new to offer to its audiences. The ensemble wishes all a happy – and musical – holiday season!