The Wichita Chamber Chorale will be making a joyful noise this weekend at its annual holiday concert. Kicking off the group’s 35th season, “Sounding Joy” will feature carols, stories and legends inspired by the Christmas story.
Organizers say the program, at Plymouth Congregation Church, will offer an eclectic sampling of festive music that will enchant audiences.
“It’s the one time of year when people expect choral music to be part of their experience,” said Mark Bartel, the choir’s artistic director and conductor. “The Christmas spirit really hits them when they’re at this event. You can see the joy in their faces.”
This year’s program comes with a twist: Interspersed among the musical selections will be narrations of holiday tales and traditions. Music Theatre of Wichita favorite Charles Parker will be reading familiar stories such as Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” along with gospel accounts narrating the birth of Jesus. There will also be some atypical holiday fair, with the inclusion of readings from O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi” and Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables.”
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“We do like to change things up a little bit,” Bartel said. “The program offers different sources, different moods. Some are humorous, some are reflective, and some have more of a moral to the story.”
Bartel said the group relies heavily on popular arrangements for this show, in part, to gear it toward a wider audience. Holiday staples such as “Jingle Bells,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” “Silent Night,” and “Joy to the World” will be among the offerings the 28-member group will sing. Also queued up is a vocal jazz rendering of the seminal, chestnuts-roasting “The Christmas Song,” John Rutter’s arrangement for “O Holy Night,” and “O Lord, With Wondrous Mystery” by Hendrik F. Andriessen.
The Wichita Chamber Chorale’s performances are unique in part because of the group’s size. Typically, shows include fewer than 40 singers. Longtime member Russell Hall says this enhances the concerts and heightens the experience for the audience because it allows the listener to focus on individual voices and the harmony the collective group produces.
“Our identity is built around doing the more intricate and difficult things,” he said. “There is music you’ll hear at this concert that won’t be replicated elsewhere. Because we are a small choir, a listener can really pick up the intricacies and interplay between the different voices and vocal parts. They can hear a lot of the structures the composer or conductor wanted to convey. With larger choirs, details get mashed underneath the sound. You don’t get to hear the details as much. We shine because of the detail.”
Hall has been involved with the chorale since the group’s first show in 1978 and considers himself a lifelong member. He said being in the group has allowed him to keep his music and vocal skills up and also to form meaningful, invaluable friendships. The experience, he says, has completely enriched his life.
“Singing as a soloist is joyful in certain ways, but one dimension you get when you’re a member of a good choir is the thrill of good teamwork and the thrill of being around other people that are as good as you or better,” Long said.
Both Long and Bartel said they believe it’s that level of musicianship that makes their group and this show stand out. In an effort to make choral music more open to the community, they are offering free tickets to high school students and reduced admission for college students.
“Choral music, unlike symphonic music, has the additional dimension of text,” Long said. “That’s where the message is, and the pieces we are doing in this show have a profound and moving message.”