The Santa Clara Chorale’s 2016 “Evening of Lessons and Carols” ushered in the holiday season with traditional Christmas music and broadly-appealing secular music reflecting the season. Mission Santa Clara, decorated with lighted Christmas trees and poinsettias, was the glowing setting for the concert, presented Dec. 9 and Dec. 11.
The annual holiday concert evoked the universal themes of wonder, community, joy, loss and peace through 19 musical selections and also through readings by community members invited to share their thoughts on the themes.
“I love having the involvement of community readers. It’s exciting for me to see what their message is going to be,” said Chorale Artistic Director Scot Hanna-Weir, who did not know in advance what the readers would say. “It’s an amazing interaction, sharing what is in their hearts and how those messages can come together with the music.”
Many arrangements in the program were written within the tradition of the “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” first presented on Christmas Eve 1918 by King’s College Cambridge, England. Santa Clara University organist James Welch accompanied the Chorale on organ and piano.
Expressing wonder, the program opened with “In Splendoribus Sanctorum,” a short choral meditation by contemporary Scottish composer James MacMillan.
Reflecting on “community,” retired engineer Marcos Herrera read the prayer “A Step Along the Way,” which begins with the thought that “It helps now and then to step back and take the long view.” The prayer, sometimes mistakenly attributed to Archbishop Oscar Romero (assassinated in El Salvador in 1980), was composed in 1979 by Bishop Ken Untener in Saginaw, Michigan.
“Joy to the World” introduced the theme of joy, with the audience singing along. During the two-hour concert, other sing-along carols included “The First Nowell,” “O come All Ye Faithful” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
In an audience surprise, Hanna-Weir accompanied the Chorale on the bongo for the joyful Yoruba language hymn “Ogo Ni Fun Oluwa” by Rosephanye Powell.
“This makes the Christmas season. I love singing, so I enjoy singing along,” said San Jose resident Pat Cassidy at Friday night intermission. “And It’s good to see my friend Joan Lang singing.”
“They’re doing a spectacular job; it’s beautiful,” said San Jose resident Barbara McDonald. “I grew up with all these Christmas carols, but this [concert] appeals to anyone of any religion.”
After intermission, Santa Clara resident and former candidate for City Council Suds Jain spoke of loss of environment. The Chorale reflections on loss began with “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Gustav Holst. The concert closed peacefully with a “Prayer for Peace” by Abbie Betinis, “Silent Night” and “Ubi Caritas” by Maurice Durufle.
“The Christmas concert is a highlight of the year, a tradition since we started in 1962. People get it on their calendars early, and some even come to both concerts,” said Chorale Board of Directors President Ron Paradies. About 350 attended Friday and about 500 Sunday afternoon.
“I love how the concert makes me feel so warm and happy. My mom is in the Chorale and my grandpa was, too, until he moved out of state,” said Deann Pheneger, who plans to audition with the chorale in hopes of continuing that family tradition.
“It’s nice to be able to get together and lift people’s spirits and bring them back to the sense of community that people love at this time of year,” said Pheneger’s mom, soprano soloist Kathleen Pheneger.
“Knights and Dragons,” the next concert of the nonprofit Santa Clara Chorale (www.scc.org), is about mythical creatures. It takes place in a new venue March 3 at Sunnyvale Presbyterian Church and in its regular venue March 12 at Mission Santa Clara.