The smell of gingerbread cookies, the absurd amount of ugly holiday sweaters, the hugs with distant family members you haven’t seen since the Fourth of July; these can only mean one thing: It’s Christmas time! This means it’s also time for both the annual Jesuit Christmas Concert and the annual Ursuline Christmas Concert!
On Thursday night, December 10th, starting promptly at 7:00 PM, the Jesuit-Ursuline Concert Band, accompanied by the Jesuit Men’s Chorus and the Jesuit-Ursuline Percussion Ensemble, performed their annual Jesuit Christmas Concert, titled “A Celebration of Christmas,” in the Terry Center. “A Celebration of Christmas” featured a wide variety of seasonal songs, ranging from traditional folk music to common Christmas carols.
To open the concert, the first tune on the program for the band was “The Nutcracker Suite.” Composed by Pyotr I. Tchaikovsky, this piece was made to accompany the ballet. It consists of four different suites, “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy,” “Elves’ Dance, Trepak,” and “Waltz of the Flowers.” Although each is diverse in its style, the collection of these four pieces makes “The Nutcracker Suite” a magical mix of melodies. A classic well-known to most of the audience, Spencer Vilicic ’17 concluded, “‘The Nutcracker Suite’ never fails to reawaken the Christmas spirit.” Ursuline student Mary Emma McLaughlin ’16 agreed in saying, “The band concert at Jesuit is a great way to get into the Christmas spirit and start off the holidays.”
For their second piece, the band performed “Christmas “a la” Big Band,” composed by Larry Clark. This song is a mix of familiar holiday tunes with a big band sound. With popular carols like “Santa Claus is Comin’ to Town,” the liveliness of the music proved to be fun for both the audience and the musicians.
Next on the menu for the night was the bands’ performance of the holiday classic, “Greensleeves: a Fantasia for Band.” Composed by Vaughan Williams, this beneficent ballad contains many well-known Christmas melodies that always draw a jolly reaction from the crowd. The melodies of the song are very commonly heard in stores, houses, and when waking in the streets throughout the holiday season, but some people often face the problem of “I like this song, but what’s the name of it?” So if you’re humming a merry melody and forget where it’s from, there is a good chance it’s probably from Greensleeves.
Giving the band a break, the next performance would be done by the Jesuit Men’s Chorus, with their first song, “A Jubilant Christmas”. Arranged by Joyce Eilers, the piece includes traditional carols, “Angels We Have Heard On High,” “We Three Kings,” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.” Sung at Sunday Mass around this time, the Men’s Chorus finished out this song with the help of the crowd.
The second piece for the Men’s Chorus was “Soldier’s Hallelujah.” Composed by Vijay Singh, the bold hymns provided an interesting change in the atmosphere of the concert, with baritone voices starting off the song in an abrupt, powerful Hallelujah melody that continued into a tenor-baritone a capella. With the addition of the higher voices, a dynamic of vigor and joy, flowing from the throats of the chorus members, grew to encompass the whole room. The conclusion of the song was met with silent approval from the audience, moved by the examples of musical range and raw melodic power that had just beset their ears.
Concluding their performance, the Men’s Chorus sang, “Good Tidings to You.” Arranged by Michael Scott, this medley features classic Christmas carols, “Jingle Bells” and “We Wish You A Merry Christmas.” This proved to be a great decision as the last song, with the audience accompanying the choir throughout each carol, ending the Men’s Chorus’ performance on a high note.
Once the choir’s performance ended, the band played the “Concert Suite from The Polar Express” for their next song. Composed by Alan Silvestri and Glen Ballard, this piece of music consists of four songs, “Believe,” “The Polar Express,” “When Christmas Comes To Town,” and “Spirit of the Season.” This music featured many soloists in the band and even simulated the sound of a train coming down the tracks at the start of “The Polar Express.” Popular from both the 2004 hit movie and the Christmas concerts, this piece was a crowd pleaser. “Every year the band plays ‘Polar Express’ at both Christmas concerts and every year the audience loves it,” remarked Ursuline student Cydney Roy ’17. Cydney concluded with, “It is my favorite song I’ve ever performed and I really look forward to it every concert season!”
Next, the band took their final break, in order for the Jesuit-Ursuline Percussion Ensemble to perform their piece, “Pat A Pan.” Arranged by Jeff Smith, this traditional tune provides a mix of jolly holiday jams for the listener. The song features multiple mallet instruments, like the vibraphone, marimba, and glockenspiel, as well as a snare drum, bass drum, full drum set, whip (the wooden clapper), and the triangle. The amount of technicality and swift movements made by the musicians in this tune, in addition to the holiday melodies, definitely made its mark on the audience.
Last, but not least, the band concluded the concert with everyone’s all-time favorite, “Sleigh Ride.” Composed by Leroy Anderson, this tune gives the listener the feeling of a riding in a horse-drawn sleigh across a landscape covered in snow. As the song went on, the crowd increasingly became more merry and jolly. “I always enjoy the Christmas concerts,” as well as “performing classics like Sleigh Ride,” said Vilicic, finishing with, “everyone is so happy and at ease.”
Providing very merry music for the whole family, the Jesuit Christmas Concert fully lived up to its name as truly “A Celebration of Christmas.”
On Sunday night, December 13, starting a little earlier at 6:30, a second Christmas concert was held at the Ursuline Center For Performing Arts, the thirty-second annual Sounds of the Season concert. This performance featured members of the Jesuit-Ursuline Concert Band, the Ursuline-Jesuit Cistercian String Orchestra, the Ursuline Academy Singers, and the Ursuline Academy Jazz Choir. The concert featured some of the bands’ tunes from the Jesuit Christmas concert three days prior, as well as many new tunes performed by each group.
Kicking off the concert, the band played “Sleigh Ride” as their first song. A similar reaction as that of the Jesuit Christmas Concert, the audience instantly lit up with joy as they heard the familiar melody of the trumpets and ringing of the bells.
Second on the list, the string orchestra performed, “In the Company of Angels.” Composed by William Hofeldt, the gentle ballad features the string orchestra and the harp. Although performed after “Sleigh Ride,” this piece set the tone for the next few songs, providing a lyrical melody that can make one feel closer to the divine company of the Angels.
Next, the Ursuline Academy Singers performed their first song, “Sheperd’s Pipe Carol.” Composed by John Rutter, the jaunty piece vividly portrays the starry sky above Bethlehem, with the dimmed lights of the arts center making the experience all the more realistic. In addition to the beautiful singers, this song featured Cydney Roy ’17, who played a majestic piccolo solo to tie the piece together.
For their second piece, the singers followed up with “The Jesus Gift.” Composed by Gilbert M. Martin, this song eloquently expresses how we can appropriately thank God for the gift of His Son, with the gift of our hearts. The singers vividly voiced this melodic message and much more, along with the soloist, Ursuline student Randi Woodard ’16, whose solos throughout the song made for a beautiful accompaniment.
Next, the singers sang their third song, “Betelehemu.” Composed by Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji and Dr. Wendell P. Whalum, and transcribed by Via Olatunji, this Nigerian carol provides a unique and energetic experience for the audience, featuring African lyrics as well as percussionists Russell Descourouez ’19, Noah Frey ’17, and Marlin Walkup ’17. This lively piece proved to be a favorite by both the audience and the musicians, with multiple people sure to hum the tune of Betelehemu for the rest of the night.
Once again, the band performed its second piece, “Greensleeves: A Fantasia for Band.” The traditional English folk song made a subtle change to the environment of the arts center. The resonate sound and faster pace set the song apart from a few of the previous songs, with a lyrical flute solo in the beginning to add to the effect.
Next in line, the string orchestra performed “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”. Composed by Kim Gannon and Walter Kent, the reality of the music hit a responsive chord with civilians and soldiers in the midst of World War II, as well as in the current in the audience at the concert. This classic undoubtedly touched every heart in the room, with a beautiful but real message that gave all the listeners a tug on their heart strings.
Taking the stage, the jazz choir performed their first song, “Angels We Have Heard On High.” Arranged by Kirby Shaw, this traditional French carol lightened up the audience with telling the musical tale of shepherds calling out to one another on Christmas Eve, each singing, just as the Angels might have announced the birth of Christ. The jazzy style of the piece set the tone for the next couple of songs.
For their second piece, the jazz choir sang “Raise Up, Children!” Arranged by Benjamin Harlan, the song combines two African-American spirituals, “Rise Up, Shepherd” and “Children Go Where I Send Thee.” Opening with a sweet swung solo by Ivanka Perez UA ’18, the upbeat piece, through the brilliant vocals of the jazz choir, truly captured the spirit of Christmas and was a true musical celebration of the Incarnation.
For their last song, the jazz choir performed, “I Love the Winter Weather.” Arranged by Mac Huff, the piece offered a snowy showcase for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the “Satin Dolls” Jazz Choir. This bouncy tune finished out the choirs’ performance in a special, seasonal song.
Back to the band, they played the piece, “The Polar Express.” For some audience members, this was their second time hearing this song this week, but this did not make a difference. The four songs featured all struck the crowd with the iconic melodies of the 2004 movie, perfect for those in the audience that wanted to believe in the spirit of Christmas every day of every year. Randi Woodard complemented the bands’ performance with, “I enjoyed the band songs the most.”
Close to the end, the string orchestra performed the song, “Jingle Bells?” Composed by James R. Pierpont, and arranged by William Ryden, the familiar song took the audience on an unexpected ride in the Ryden’s treatment of the old tune, with sections of fast, technical rhythms, only to be followed by slower, lyrical melodies.
Concluding the concert, each group took the stage in a combined ensemble song, “Christmas on Broadway.” Arranged by John Higgins, this piece includes seasonal classics from musical theater and composers, including “A Christmas Carol,” “Mame,” “Babes in Toyland,” and more joined to bring the audience a perfect balance of holiday joy. Detailing her role in these groups, Mary Emma McLaughlin explained, “I’m one of few who is lucky enough to be part of multiple groups, so while it’s difficult to switch quickly between the three, it’s really cool and fun to see it all come together.” Cydney Roy in accordance with Mary Emma, explained the magic of the music with, “The band, orchestra, and all choirs performed…and it really came together!” Furthermore, feeling the Christmas spirit, Mary Emma concluded, “The Christmas concert at Ursuline is my favorite concert for the entire year. All the choirs, the band, and the orchestra come together to put on an amazingly festive performance.”
The musicians and singers who took part in the concert, in addition to sharing it with others through the power of music, definitely felt the joy of the holiday season. Randi Woodard confidently concluded, “It ended up to be an amazing night.” In accordance with Randi, Martin Flores ’17, Vice President of the band, said, “The amount of support for the Orchestra, the UA Choirs and, of course, the band were incredible. I think this year we really were able to convey a message that really rung in the holiday season. This has always been the event where I truly feel like it’s the holiday season.” Merry with the rewards of musicianship, Cydney Roy stated, “One of the best feelings as a musician is when you feel like you’ve contributed to a piece of music. And all musicians that night really contributed and made for a beautiful song,” referencing “Christmas on Broadway,” the song all three groups contributed to. In that moment, everyone shared the Christmas spirit, a beautiful feeling which was made possible by great music. I hope everyone has a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
If you think you missed out on the Christmas cheer, just come out to these two Christmas concerts, they only come around but once a year!