From Bach to Chilcott: Christmas with The Colorado Choir
A preview by Betsy Schwarm
Choral Christmas concerts often rely on old favorites. There’s comfort to be found in hearing them, much like the comfort of a cup of hot chocolate or a favorite sweater. Moreover, most of the old favorites became favorites for good reasons, whether from excellence of craftsmanship or associated memories. What’s Christmas without those roasting chestnuts and angels singing from on high?
However, there’s often delight in finding new favorites, and for that purpose, consider Christmas with The Colorado Choir. This year’s program offers J. S. Bach’s Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring (now, there’s an old favorite!), along with two 20th century composers (father and son Christiansens), and one composer, Bob Chilcott (b. 1955), former member of the King’s Singers, who’s still at work today. It is a program of beauty, excitement, and varied visions of the season.
Of course, this Christmas season is a bit different from most, being our second in a row to occur under the shadow of pandemic. That fact was in The Colorado Choir’s conductor Kelly Parmenter’s mind as she planned the program. She observes, “our supporters and audience members are longing to return to some form of normalcy this holiday season and look to us to provide that. I wanted to provide that comforting feeling that a well-known carol provides, the enthusiasm that spirituals invoke and the dignity and grace that only J.S. Bach inspires.”
Months before it became likely that this trio of live attendance concerts could take place, Parmenter had already chosen the opening number, Chilcott’s In the Heart of the World. Parmenter admits that it isn’t a Christmas song per se. However, she says, “I feel that it addresses the feelings of hope that I, and others, hold for the future. When you set all conflict aside and get to the heart of things, I believe that we all want the same thing. Peace.” A vision of peace seems especially suited to the Christmas season: peace, and a certain sparkle of good will.
The December holidays are often a time for family, even when there aren’t a father and son team amongst the program’s composers, as is the case here. However, the family aspect is not just in being father and son: they also have a place in The Colorado Choir family. Norwegian-born F. Melius Christiansen (1871 – 1955) was already involved in music before emigrating to the US at the age of 17. Various posts as church organist, choir director, and band director led to steady work in Minnesota, especially within the realm of the Lutheran Church and St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota. That might mean a lot of Bach: nothing wrong with that! However, Christiansen himself composed and arranged over 250 works for a cappella voices, and his techniques – both in putting the notes on the page and in rehearsal/performance approaches – were soon widely admired and imitated throughout the musical community. His youngest son, Paul J. Christiansen (1914 – 1997) carried on the tradition, though more with Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota, than with St. Olaf.
Therein lies the family connection to The Colorado Choir: Randolph “Casey” Jones (1925 – 2013) studied under the younger Christiansen at Concordia, and they became life-long friends. In 1976 Casey founded The Colorado Choir and remained its conductor through the 2008-2009 season. He was succeeded by current maestra Kelly Parmenter. From Bach to Christiansen to Parmenter, one finds the enduring expression of the Lutheran choral tradition. As Parmenter asserts, “It speaks to the heart and comes from the soul.”
Those longing for music that reaches hearts and souls are invited to join The Colorado Choir for one of the three performances of its Christmas program: two evenings and one matinee in two days. All audience members must wear masks in order to attend.
Evening performances will be Friday and Saturday, December 10 and 11, at 7:30 pm, at Augustana Lutheran Church; 5000 East Alameda 80246. Pricing is $20/adults; $15 students/seniors/military, and tickets are available through the ensemble’s website – thecoloradochoir.org.
As for the matinee, this will be presented Saturday, December 11 at 2 pm at what Parmenter calls “our second home:” First Presbyterian Church of Littleton; 1609 West Littleton Blvd at Windermere; 80120. This performance may be particularly family friendly: not only daytime, but also a slightly shorted program. Furthermore, consider the pricing: $10 + food donation for all guests. ‘Tis the season to give!
In the context of the troubled moods of recent years, most of us will have found ourselves focusing more on our well-being, both physical and emotional. Music has a role in that process, both for performers and for listeners. As Parmenter observes, “We all know that singing is good for our brain and our energy. Endorphins release, and feelings of hope and happiness follow them…. To be able to inspire, remind, participate and encourage is truly a blessing. Do we sing for ourselves? Of course. Do we sing for the world? Most definitely!!”
Of her choir members, Parmenter reflects, “They were so ready to come together again and so was I. We are all excited to share our musical gifts and ‘sing’ in the holiday season. We raise our voices in song to remind ourselves that peace and love do exist and we all have the ability to share them, one concert, one song, one person at a time.”
Be part of that coming together by joining the audience for Christmas with The Colorado Choir: December 10 and 11. Further information can be found here: thecoloradochoir.org. Please remember to bring and wear a mask. Merry Christmas!