Carolers in the streets, choirs in churches, pop renditions on radios, even bell-ringers outside grocery stores: The holiday season is in large part defined by the music and sounds that abound this time of year.
In the Wood River Valley, there is never a shortage of live music to enjoy, but December boasts a particularly impressive lineup. A cornerstone fixture of this festive time is the Hallelujah Chorus’ annual Christmas concert.
The program varies year by year. Biannually, the Hallelujah Chorus performs a double bill—one evening of gospel and carols and the other a classical choir performance of Handel’s “Messiah.”
Since, as the oratorio goes, the “valley was exalted” by “Messiah” last year, this holiday season will see just one evening of singing by the free-performance vocal ensemble.
The program—titled “The Promise”—will offer up a diverse array of Christmas classics and unrelated tunes that cohere thematically with the ideals of the holiday, if not literally with the yuletide narrative.
“I generalize it,” said chorus director Patty Parsons. “I like to make music that I love appropriate for the season, pull a Christmas story into it somehow. It’ll be a mix of Christmas songs and songs that aren’t quite Christmas songs.”
Despite sharing a common origin, gospel music—the Hallelujah Chorus’ primary genre—and Christmas carols do not overlap very much. While carols are frequently covered by pop stars, rock ’n’ rollers, country-western artists, jazz musicians and crooners, Parsons noted a relative scarcity of solid gospel arrangements. Fortunately for her and the choir, gospel songs and Christmas carols often share mutual themes and messages.
“We’re doing several songs about peace that aren’t necessarily Christmas songs, but Christmas is all about peace, so it works,” Parsons said.
Without giving away too many details, she mentioned that the program will include tracks by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, gospel singer Kirk Franklin, contemporary worship duo Shane & Shane, some Christmas carols and a smattering of tracks that feature on multi-Grammy-winning songwriting icon Carole King’s 2011 holiday album.
For a few pieces, the Hallelujah Chorus will be supplemented onstage by young ballerinas from the Footlight Dance Centre. Under the direction of Hilarie Neely, the dancers will perform original choreography and help transform “The Promise” into—in the words of Parsons—“a little more of a pageant or celebration.”
The Hallelujah Chorus performs two main events a year. In addition to the annual Christmas concert, the ensemble also sings during the Sun Valley Jazz and Music Festival in October. Gospel, Parsons said, is appropriate any time of year, anywhere for anyone.
“I don’t know what it is about [gospel]. People are just drawn to the beat, the message, the earthiness of it, the folksiness. They relate to those lyrics. I’m a classical buff myself, too, and I like Christmas carols in Latin, but when you do a gospel song, it’s just so universal. Gospel is a universal language,” Parsons said.
Vocalists of that universal language will spread their message of peace, hope and goodwill this Sunday, Dec. 22, at 7 p.m. during their concert at the Presbyterian Church of the Big Wood, 100 Saddle Road, Ketchum. This performance is free and open to the public.