Christmas Choral Music

It’s the holiday season, the air is crisp (if not downright cold), and music abounds. For Christians, those who come from a Christian tradition, and those who just love music, one of the greatest treasures of the season is the plethora of glorious choral music at this time of the year. Shoppers may be subjected to saccharine “holiday” music in the mall. Those who love choral music can choose from a smorgasbord of delights offered up by all sorts of choirs. 

For readers in the Toronto area, the invaluable resource for all musical events is The WholeNote magazine, free of charge on stands in the community or digital on the internet. In addition to its timely articles on the musical scene, it lists all concerts in Toronto, the GTA, and beyond. Toronto tenor and lutenist Benjamin Stein has written a Choral Scene review which focuses on December concerts including those of several children’s choirs, ethnic choirs, the choral music of the masters (apart from Handel), and other significant upcoming choral events. Check these out.

Sing-along opportunities abound. The two Toronto Star Christmas Carol Concerts at St Paul’s Anglican Church on Bloor Street are a tradition for many. These concerts feature the Salvation Army Canadian Staff Band, several community and church choirs under the direction of Dr. Giles Bryant, and ample opportunity to sing favourite Christmas carols accompanied by the choirs, the band, and the magnificent church organ. Some 2600 tickets are available free of charge, but only to those (or their delegates) who line up early in the morning on the appointed day several weeks in advance to pick them up. The concerts are a fundraiser for the Toronto Star Santa Claus Fund and typically raise over $45,000.00 for their Christmas box campaign.

Every year, I attend the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Choir Sing-Along Messiah at Massey Hall the Sunday before Christmas. Over twenty-seven hundred choristers crowd into the Hall, arranging themselves into voice sections as Sopranos, Altos, Tenors and Basses (and the assorted others), filling every seat. Ivars Taurins, dressed in the garb of George Frideric Handel and affecting his accent and mannerisms, leads the orchestra, choir, soloists, and the assembled masses as they work through the highlights of Handel’s oratorio, Messiah. The soloists sing the recitatives and the airs; the rest of us stand to join in the choruses. It is a splendid experience. 

My friend, with whom I have always attended this event, sings in several choirs, is an accomplished musician, and has no problem singing the alto part with confidence and gusto. I once sang in a church choir, know little about reading music other than to know when the notes go up and down, and how long they are to be held (sort of… ). To participate in this event, I do my best to keep up, and lip synch a lot. Over the years, I’ve become better at it, thanks largely to my strong singer friend. It is a sublime experience to sing the Hallelujah chorus in such company not once, but twice… as the event always ends with a repeat of the Hallelujah chorus, “to raise the roof.” For those who can’t join this event live, there is a DVD of the Sing-Along Messiah available from Tafelmusik. Originally produced for Bravo, the film is also sometimes seen on local or public television. It’s a great way to mark the season.

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