Capital City Chorale’s Christmas Concert

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The Capital City Chorale’s annual Christmas concert is Tuesday, 7 p.m. at First Baptist Church, St. Clair Street. Tickets are $6 per person and there are refreshments after the concert.

Conductor Gary Johnson says the program doesn’t have a particular theme this year, just a variety of Christmas music ranging from the classics to contemporary, concluding with the always-popular “Hallelujah!” from George Frederick Handel’s Messiah.

Founded in 1994 by Dr. Phyllis Vincent, the Chorale has been singing continuously since that time, providing opportunities for choral musicians to meet, work, learn and socialize with other people with similar interests. Regularly the ensemble performs a spring concert and one at the Christmas season with some special appearances throughout the year.

There are some 35 members this semester.

In addition to Johnson and Vincent, Kentucky State University’s Dr. Carl Smith has served as conductor.

Roland Herzel is accompanying the Chorale on the organ since, says Johnson, most of the music for this program requires organ.

Here are Johnson’s comments about this year’s selections:

The program opens with “Adam Lay Ybounden,” a 15th century English carol arranged by Carson Cooman. This is a high-energy treatment of an early carol that tells the story of Adam after his fall from grace. The text is in Middle English, so some of it sounds a bit unfamiliar to our ears.

The story of the carol goes like this: According to the teachings of the early Christian church, Adam committed a grave sin and was cast out from the Garden of Eden. Consequently, he could no longer enter into the presence of God.

However, Adam was a Friend of God, and so was not cast into the Lake of Fire. Instead, Adam was bound (Ybounden) in the land known as Limbo, where he waited for his redemption. That redemption came by the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, which according to the scriptures of the day, occurred after Adam had been waiting for 4,000 years. After Jesus’ blood had washed away Adam’s sin, he was allowed to leave Limbo and join God in Heaven.

The fall of Adam was viewed as having a good side, for had it never occurred, then all humankind would never have been cursed with Original Sin, and Jesus would never have been sacrificed to cleanse us of our sins. Consequently, the Virgin Mary would never have given birth to Jesus, and so would never have been the Heavenly Queen.

Members of the ensemble from First Baptist accompanying this piece are Dan Hughes, trumpet; Stephen Mason, trombone, and Laura Hughes, French horn. Johnson says the ensemble “adds fire to this piece.”

“The Virgin’s Slumber Song,” by Max Reger and arranged by James Kirby is next. It’s a tender, gentle lullaby by one of the great German composers of the 20th century. Listen for the changes in harmony and mood, yet always maintaining that unhurried, gentle, flowing pace. The chorus sings so softly so as not to “waken the baby.”

Pianist Gabrielle Gayheart accompanies this piece.

“Carol of the Bells” is a seasonal favorite, this year’s version performed by an ensemble put together by Chorale president Richard Abbott. The piece is by Peter J. Wilhousky.

The 14th century German carol “In Dulci Jubilo,” arranged by Dietrich Buxtehude, is a beautiful treatment of the more familiar hymn, “Good Christian Souls, Rejoice,” which appears in most modern hymnals. The embellished vocal line is quite light, as well as delightful.

Buxtehude was a fantastic organist of the 17th century, and had a profound influence on the young J.S. Bach. Buxtehude held a regular Sunday afternoon series of concerts at his church in Hamburg that were quite popular with the townspeople.

“Ding Dong Merrily On High” is a 20th century English Carol by George Ratcliffe Woodward, arranged by Barbara Wallace. It is another seasonal favorite, and Barbara Wallace brings her considerable talents to bear, producing a wonderful arrangement. Listen for the constant motion and interplay between vocal sections. This carol is actually derived from an earlier secular song; George Woodward created the Christmas text and published this piece in 1924.

“Gloria” by Hyun Kook is a contemporary arrangement written in 5/8 meter, which means it has an asymmetrical feel to it. I call it a “lopsided waltz,” and you’ll feel it for yourself as we move through it.

Kook is a native-born Korean, where he lives today. His doctorate degree is in medicine, not music. In fact, he has no formal training in music, but learned the musical art of composition on his own.

This is an excellent example of what musicians who are not formally trained can do, with disciplined self-study and dedication.

“The Virgin Mary Had-a One Son Carol in the Calypso Style” by George Mabry features calypso carols that have become quite popular at Christmas in recent years, and this easy, straight-beat piece evokes the simple, uncluttered image of Jesus’ humble birth. There are no trumpets blasting or tympani rolling – just mild rhythms, paired vocal lines and folk instruments quietly announcing the birth.

“Gesu Bambion” by Pietro A. Yon is next. This is one of the great pieces for Christmas, composed by Italian-born Peter Yon, organist at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, NYC. Among his students was Cole Porter. This arrangement by Englishman Mark Schweizer is one of the best. Jane Forman plays the beautiful, haunting line on flute.

“Riu Riu Chiu” is a 16th century Spanish Carol by Mateo Fletcha. This early Basque carol is a true delight to perform. Tom Luscher handles the solo line, and the chorus responds. The drums really give this a medieval feel. Charlie Kendell is the Chorale’s regular drummer.

“I Wonder as I Wander” is a 20th century Appalachian carol by John Jacob Niles, arranged by Richard Shephard. Niles recorded bits of an early Appalachian carol and assembled them into this great standard of the Christmas season. After its publication in 1934 it became a favorite of choirs everywhere, and still is to this day.

“We Wish You a Merry Christmas” is a 16th century English Carol arranged by Ian Higginson. The origin of this English carol harkens back to the old English tradition where carolers strolled around to various homes in their town on Christmas Eve, serenading the people with song. In return, they received treats. One of the most popular snacks was “figgy pudding,” which is similar to modern day Christmas pudding.

“Hallelujah!” from “Messiah” by George Frederick Handel closes the program. And what would Christmas be without Handel? This year we continue our long-standing tradition of inviting the audience members to join us up front and help sing this great piece. We will have scores available if you need them. So come on down and join us!

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