At this time of year a mantle of darkness shrouds most of our “day” and the capitalists of Christmas who rule our shopping environments — which are practically everywhere — stun us to consciousness by stuffing our ears with the stark yet strident sounds of popular holiday songs like “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree.”
But when we prepare to mark this time of year, our ears are much more attuned to the round and rich sounds that have endured over decades and even centuries. Some of the classics that go back hundreds of years have roots in various cultures and their folklore. Others date to the early 20th century, when world wars I and II begat music with themes evoking nostalgia and peace.
As we head into winter, an array of area musicians, from solo pianists to large choruses and orchestras, will herald the holiday season and give us extensive opportunity to hear seasonal music in a range of settings, from large theaters to smaller churches.
Voices of the season
The most spectacular holiday music requires voices — and lots of them. The strongest sound in any holiday season, beyond doubt, comes from performances of Handel’s “Messiah,” which includes the work’s most popular number, the “Hallelujah” chorus. Every year, the Louisville Bach Society presents this powerful classic, and does so this year at St. Patrick’s Catholic Church on Dec. 3. And for those listeners who might plan to shop in the quaint town of Madison, Ind., the Hanover College Choral Ensemble joins the Madison-Ohio Valley Community Chorus for a free performance of “The Messiah” in St. Michael the Archangel Church on Dec. 2.
WUOL-FM has put together an impressive array of choral groups for its Second Annual Christmas Choral Extravaganza on Dec. 3 at St. Martin of Tours — from the University of Louisville Cardinal Singers (who recently earned accolades in the Tolosa Choral Contest after performing in Spain’s Basque region), to the Gregorian Chant Schola singers of St. Meinrad Archabbey in Southern Indiana, who will provide Advent chants throughout the concert. In addition, the Eastern High School Choir will perform excerpts of Vivaldi’s “Gloria,” while the St. Martin Choir will sing Martin Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium” and “Jul, Jul” by Gustav Norqvist. WUOL classical music hosts Carol Larson and Alan Brandt also will sing.
The Louisville Chorus gets out annually to spread seasonal sentiments to several churches throughout the community. This year, the 67-year-old organization holds three performances of “A Season Shining Bright: Celebrating This Holy Time of Year,” a program with music highlighting the Nativity. Therese Davis, the organization’s executive director and pianist, said it will include a variety of styles spanning several centuries, from “In dulci,” arranged in the early 1800s by Robert Lucas de Pearsall, to Benjamin Britten’s “A Hymn to the Virgin,” to “Deo Gloria” by current choral composer Boyd Bacon. The group will also perform a spiritual, “Rise Up Shepherd an’ Foller,” and the shepherd’s chorus from the opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors” by Italian-born American Gian Carlo Menotti.
While many of the choral ensembles here have years of experience, the Louisville Youth Choir is where future choral members get started. The choir actually has four ensembles with vocalists from grades 4 through 12, and all three perform “A Christmas Festival: Magnificat” on Dec. 15. The event is titled for one of the program’s most ambitious selections, Vivaldi’s “Magnificat,” which interlaces a variety of choral styles around solo sections. Also among the classic selections are works by Bach and English Renaissance composer William Byrd, plus Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus. Besides these classics, other selections provide variety — standards such as “White Christmas” and a traditional West Indian spiritual, “Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy.”
Voices of Kentuckiana sings more popular music Dec. 8-9 when it presents “Winter Wonderland,” a program that includes standards like “Baby It’s Cold Outside” and, yes, “Winter Wonderland of Snow.”
The music department at Indiana University Southeast presents a mix of classics and more modern standards when the IU Southeast Orchestra, Concert Band and Concert Choir perform in “Holiday Pops Spectacular” on Dec. 10. The program includes modern melodies from the screen, such as music from “A Charlie Brown Christmas” and “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas,” standards like “Sleigh Ride,” and classics like “Oh, Holy Night.” The performance should climax naturally with Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus by all three groups, which includes more than 150 musicians.
For listeners looking for music without the vocal power, there are orchestral and solo performances. The Louisville Orchestra presents one of the larger-scale holiday concerts in its “Holiday Spectacular.” Acting conductor Stuart Chafetz, music director and conductor of the Maui Pops, will lead the players through a repertoire that includes nostalgic tunes from the last century (“Sleigh Ride” by Leroy Anderson and “White Christmas” by Irving Berlin) plus a few classics, including Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite and the Winter concerto from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” Chafetz will conclude with a rare choice, at least in Kentucky, the “Hawaiian Christmas Song” or “Mele Kalikimaka” by Alex Anderson. (Oh, and Santa will make an appearance in the lobby following the performance. Presumably not wearing Hawaiian garb.)
On Dec. 17, the Louisville Youth Orchestra, with more than 300 young musicians ranging in age from 7 to 21, and from 15 counties representing 55 schools, will present a variety of selections in “Deck the Brown with Louisville Youth Orchestra Sounds.” The sounds will include those of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on Greensleeves” and “Tallis Fantasia” and more popular holiday tunes, including “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” played by the younger ensembles. The organization actually has five different ensembles (including a percussion ensemble made up of 20 musicians), all of which will help deck the Brown.
At the IUS Ogle Center on Dec. 9, you can catch a solo performance from pianist Emile Pandolfi, who has released 19 albums, five of them of holiday music. Pandolfi, known for his recordings of children’s music and Broadway tunes, will share the stage with comic James Sibley.
Given that today’s holiday customs come from forebears who migrated here with their own traditions from other cultures, Louisville also has seasonal music that reflects some of those roots. Performances by the Louisville Pipe Band, Guilderoy Byrne, Cloigheann and Way Up North add a Celtic accent to the holidays and harmonize with the Scots-Irish heritage that touches a large part of our region’s population. Regardless of those facts, the groups play lively and touching music that can rouse one from a cold-weather slumber.
Guilderoy Byrne, at the First Unitarian Church on Dec. 2, and Cloigheann and Way Up North at Molly Malone’s on Dec. 7, will serve their music straight up. Guilderoy Byrne’s Greg Byrne says the group has been planning its program since July and includes a combination of music that features instrumentals — complete with fiddles, flutes, drums and strings — and works with solo and harmonious vocal arrangements.
The Louisville Pipe Band, however, performs in five presentations of “The Louisville Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival” at St. Paul United Methodist Church; that takes place just before we bid farewell to 2006. In addition to the pipe band, the festivities include entertainment from musicians from the church and the region, some solo vocalists and percussionists and others who play in a brass quartet or pipe organ. The festivities hearken to 13th century England, when the people adopted the Roman tradition of eating boar, redefining it as a symbol of the triumph of the Christ Child over sin, and the pagan tradition of burning the massive Yule log during the Solstice festival.
One might reasonably ask whether, after all of this listening, singing and playing, we will even have the energy to celebrate the New Year?
Contact the writer at [email protected]
Holiday Music: Go-to guide
Nov. 25, 8 p.m.: “Holiday Spectacular,” Louisville Orchestra, www.louisvilleorchestra.org — Brown Theatre, 315 W. Broadway, $15, 584-7777.
Nov. 26, 2 p.m.: “Holiday Spectacular,” Louisville Orchestra, www.louisvilleorchestra.org — Parkway Baptist Church, 2580 Springfield Road, Bardstown, Ky., $18 ($15 adv.), (800) 626-1563 or www.stephenfoster.com.
Dec. 3, 2 p.m.: Handel’s “Messiah,” Hanover College Choral Ensemble and the Madison-Ohio Valley Community Chorus — St. Michael’s Church, Madison, Ind., Free (Charitable donations accepted), (812) 866-7200.
Dec. 2, 8 p.m.: “14th Annual Celtic Christmas Show,” Guilderoy Byrne — First Unitarian Church, 809 S. Fourth St., $12 adults ($10 adv.), $6 children 12 and under ($5), (812) 987-7965.
Dec. 3, 3 p.m.: Handel’s “Messiah,” Louisville Bach Society, www.louisvillebachsociety.org — St. Patrick’s Catholic Church, 1000 N. Beckley Station Road, $15, $12 seniors, $10 students, 241-6018.
Dec. 3, 3 p.m.: “WUOL’s Second Annual Christmas Choral Extravaganza,” University of Louisville Cardinal Singers, Saint Meinrad Archabbey’s Gregorian Chant Schola, the Eastern High School Chorale and Eastern High School Singers and the St. Martin of Tours Choir — St. Martin of Tours, 639 S. Shelby St., $15 (adults), $10 (12 and under), $12 (Public Radio Partnership members), 814-6565 or 361-3100.
Dec. 5, 7 p.m.: “Holiday Spectacular,” Louisville Orchestra, www.louisvilleorchestra.org — Broadway Baptist Church, 4000 Brownsboro Road, Free.
Dec. 7, 6 p.m.: “An Irish Christmas,” Cloigheann, Way Up North (donations to benefit Boy’s Haven) — Molly Malone’s, 933 Baxter Ave., 473-1222.
Dec. 8-9, 8 p.m.: “Winter Wonderland,” Voices of Kentuckiana, www.voicesky.org — Clifton Center, 2117 Payne St., $15, $8 students.
Dec. 9, 4 & 8 p.m.: Pianist Emile Pandolfi/Comic James Sibley, oglecenter.ius.edu — IUS Ogle Center, 4201 Grant Line Road, New Albany, $20-$25, 361-3100.
Dec. 9, 8 p.m.: “A Season Shining Bright: Celebrating This Holy Time of Year,” Louisville Chorus, www.fastzone.com/chorus — St. Mary’s Catholic Church, 415 E. Eighth St., New Albany, $18 adults, $12 seniors, $8 students/children, 968-6300.
Dec. 10, 4 p.m.: “A Season Shining Bright: Celebrating This Holy Time of Year,” Louisville Chorus, www.fastzone.com/chorus — Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 502 N. Fifth St., La Grange, $18 adults, $12 seniors, $8 students/children, 968-6300.
Dec.10, 2:30 & 7: p.m.: “Holiday Pops Spectacular,” Indiana University Southeast Orchestra, Concert Band, Concert Choir, www.ius.edu/Music/concerts — IUS Ogle Center, 4201 Grant Line Road, New Albany, $10 adults, $6 students/seniors, 361-3100.
Dec. 15, 7 p.m.: “A Christmas Festival: Magnificat,” Louisville Youth Choir, www.louisvilleyouthchoir.com — Second Presbyterian Church, 3701 Old Brownsboro Road, $13 adults, $10 seniors, $5 students, 585-1358.
Dec. 15, 7:30 p.m.: Handel’s “Messiah,” Louisville Bach Society, www.louisvillebachsociety.org — Oldham County Arts Center, 7105 Floydsburg Road, Crestwood, $12, 241-6018.
Dec. 16, 8 p.m.: “A Season Shining Bright: Celebrating This Holy Time of Year,” Louisville Chorus, www.fastzone.com/chorus — Cathedral of the Assumption, 443 S. Fifth St., $18 adults, $12 seniors, $8 students/children, 968-6300.
Dec. 17, 3 p.m.: “Deck The Brown with Louisville Youth Orchestra Sounds,” Louisville Youth Orchestra, www.lyo.org — Brown Theatre, 315 W. Broadway, $12.50 adults, $10 seniors, $2 students (ages 6-21); 584-7777.
Dec. 19, 8 p.m.: “Holiday Spectacular,” Louisville Orchestra, www.louisvilleorchestra.org — St. Mary’s Church, 415 E. Eighth St., New Albany, Free.
Dec. 29-30, 5:30 & 8 p.m.; Dec. 31, 6 p.m.: “The Louisville Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival,” musicians from St. Paul Church and the region, including the Chancel Choir, Louisville Pipe Band, solo vocalists, a brass quartet, percussion and pipe organ, www.stpumc.com — St. Paul United Methodist Church, 2000 Douglass Blvd., Free.