By Alexis Allen
BYU”s audition choirs team up with the Philharmonic Orchestra with this weekend”s annual Celebration of Christmas concert.
The concert will be in the de Jong Concert Hall Friday and Saturday at 7:30 p.m., with a matinee Saturday at 2 p.m.
“A lot of people who don”t come to any of our other concerts will, every year, come to this Christmas concert because they want to feel the Christmas spirit,” said Rosalind Hall, director of the Men”s Chorus and the Concert Choir. “They want to feel something beyond shopping at Christmas time.”
Hall said the Celebration of Christmas concert offers audiences more than a fun sampling of their favorite Christmas classics.
“There”s some deep need to worship at Christmas, and I really do believe that that”s what draws people to the Christmas concert – to worship, more than anything else,” Hall said. “They don”t come for the falderal stuff. They enjoy a little of that, but they come to be spiritually uplifted.”
Ronald Staheli, director of the BYU Singers, said the concert has become a Christmas custom for many audience members.
“A lot of people have made it a tradition,” he said. “It”s how they open their Christmas season.”
This year”s concert has thematic elements taken from the Dutch Christmas carol that translates, “If You Would Hear the Angels Sing,” Staheli said.
“It says if you would hear the angels sing, open your heart, open your door,” Staheli said. “Turn your mind to the people of the world that need your help, for Christmas comes in the morning. That”s the whole idea. I think it”s a wonderful way for us to begin the concert.”
The carol”s message is especially timely in today”s global climate, Hall said.
“I am thrilled with that piece,” she said. “Every time we sing it, the text just sears its way right into my heart. The very ending of it is, ”many there be who stand outside, yet Christmas comes in the morning.” The world has never been in a place where those words are more appropriate than right now. So many people standing outside the door, yet Christmas will come, and, hopefully, it will leave its mark again this year.”
The choirs have only had about a week to get ready for the concert because of the demands of their other performances, but Hall said the choir members” training has prepared them to rehearse under pressure.
“They”re really used to the pace of our rehearsals now, which a lot of them are not when they come in September,” Hall said. “So when they see 10 new pieces in their folder and we tell them we”re performing these in a week, they don”t panic like they did in September.”
The choir members also have the foundational choral skills necessary to do well in this concert, despite the tight time constraints of rehearsals, Hall said.
“The instrument is built, and the tone and the sound of the choir is there now,” Hall said. “We don”t have to build it into each piece like we did at the beginning of the year. And all the choral technique they”ve learned, the placement of vowels and color, matching and blending – thank heavens we already have a lot of that in place now.”
Sectionals help members learn the songs more quickly, said Ben Robbins, a senior from Mesa, Ariz., and a member of the Concert Choir.
“We”re singing a carol medley, and it has seven or eight Christmas songs thrown together with key changes and all these alterations,” Robbins said. “It”s really pretty and it”s really hard to learn.”
But the music”s theme makes all the hard work worth it, Robbins said.
“There”s just a good spirit about Christmas music that makes you more excited about singing,” he said.
Shea Owens, a freshman from Pheonix, Ariz., and a member of the Concert Choir, agreed with Robbins.
“I think the public agrees, too, because I went to get tickets a few weeks ago and it was almost sold out,” Owens said.
Sing We Now at Christmas: A “Celebration of Christmas” Sampler
* Combined choirs: “If You Could Hear the Angels Sing” arranged by Martha Shaffer
* Women”s Chorus: “The Sussex Carol” arranged by Corin T. Overland
* Concert Choir: “Christmas Fa La” arranged by Jonathan Rathbone
* BYU Singers: “To Hear the Angels Sing” arranged by Matthew Armstrong
* Men”s Chorus: “Silent Night” arranged by Mack Wilberg
* Choirs, Orchestra and Audience: “Hallelujah!” from Handel”s “Messiah”
Sidebar – Viewpoint
Everyone knows traditions and Christmas go hand-in-hand. Making sugar cookies, trimming the tree, caroling – as soon as the calendar flips to December we glide through the month on an automatic pilot of holiday customs.
Here in Provo, the Celebration of Christmas concert has become my apartment”s holiday tradition. Every year since we were freshmen, we”ve either gone to the concert together or wished we could go after we realized all the shows were sold out.
There”s nothing like an evening of rousing Christmas tunes performed by BYU”s premiere music groups to get you in the Christmas spirit.
The Celebration of Christmas concert welcomes the Christmas season, in a way. It”s how my roommates and I bolster our joy at the advent of the holidays, even though foreboding finals loom in the distance.
Actually, I probably wouldn”t be at BYU if it wasn”t for the Celebration of Christmas concert. Three years ago, I was visiting BYU during the winter of my senior year in high school. Because scores of my relatives were BYU alumni, I wanted to break the mold by attending a different university. I had promising college scholarship opportunities awaiting me in my home state, and this winter trip to Provo was BYU”s last chance.
In one of those last-minute decisions that can change your life, I eased my way into the upper balcony of the de Jong Concert Hall during the intermission of the Celebration of Christmas concert to hear my cousin, Anna, sing with the Concert Choir.
I still remember that concert as if it were yesterday – the darkness in the balcony, my excitement to hear my cousin and my disappointment at not being able to see her from my sky-high perch.
And I”ll never forget the way the beautiful Christmas melodies pierced through my prideful anti-BYU attitude and my disillusions about what I really wanted out of my university experience.
With each familiar holiday carol, the barriers I”d built around my brain and heart ebbed away. I realized then what I”d been trying to avoid for months: I wanted to spend the next four years of my life at BYU.
So every year, I am the Celebration of Christmas cruise director for my apartment. I initiate the Celebration of Christmas concert countdown in October and encourage my roommates to buy their tickets early. I”ve even started inviting a whole cadre of friends to join in the tradition.
And every year, I remember the early Christmas gift I received during my first Celebration of Christmas concert – the realization that BYU was the place for me.