BY CAITLIN LEIKER
The 36th annual Christmas Cathedral Concert will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday in the Basilica of St. Fidelis in Victoria. The event is free to the public.
Choirs will include the Fort Hays Singers, Concert Choir, Smoky Hill Chorale, the Hays High School Chamber Singers, and TMP-Marian’s Pop Singers. Hays Symphony Orchestra will join the Brass Choir and various faculty soloists in the instrumental lineup.
Audiences can expect to hear Gregorian chant, traditional religious carols, arrangements of modern Christmas music, and more.
The Cathedral Concerts have proven to be one of the region’s most popular events during the holiday season.
“There are people that come an hour and half early just so they get a good seat,” FHSU Choir Director Terry Crull said. “But anywhere you sit, it sounds marvelous.”
Traditionally, choirs are arranged in groups of similar voice parts. However, Crull’s favorite moments from past concerts were when the voice parts were mixed, and everyone formed a giant circle around the audience.
When they sang facing the center, the voice parts blended cleanly throughout the echoing cathedral. Crull said that this arrangement will be used again this year for different pieces.
“I always liked singing those when I was in choir,” Crull said. “It puts you on the spot as a singer. You’re right there in front of two or three people…for the audience, it’s fun to hear that one voice isolated in one ear, but you can also hear the whole thing.”
Hays Symphony conductor Brian Buckstead selected Ancient Airs and Dances Suite No. 1, a four-movement piece by Italian composer Ottorino Respighi. It was written in 1917, based on Renaissance-era (16th century) Italian lute music that had been rediscovered some years earlier.
Buckstead said the piece brilliantly reorchestrates and modernizes the original lute pieces for a chamber orchestra– small groups of woodwind, brass, and string instruments. He believes that the solo harpsichord “adds just the right amount of magic to the sound.”
“This reworking of older music would become a common theme among many so-called ‘neoclassical’ composers in the first half of the 20th century,” Buckstead said. “Ancient Airs and Dances beautifully captures the spirit–both jocular and melancholy–of the season.”
With 36 running years of the Cathedral Concert, conductors continue to reflect on its heritage.
“It tells me that this is a concert that works year after year for everyone involved, including students, faculty, guests, and of course the audience,” Buckstead said. “The combined efforts of the singers and instrumentalists in putting this together, as well as the wonderful variety of music on display, is hard to beat.”
Alexandra Rome, director of TMP-Marian’s Pop Singers, also spoke about the tradition of the event.
“To have a tradition that has continued for so many years speaks to the community that keeps it going,” Rome said. “I cannot count how many times I have heard different people say, ‘It’s not the Christmas season until we experience the Cathedral Concert. Then I’m truly in the spirit.’”
This is Rome’s fourth year conducting the Pop Singers. While she herself has performed in an estimated 10 Christmas Cathedral Concerts, this will be her first year leading the Pop Singers in the program.
“This year’s songs were chosen based on a couple things: stretching the singers’ [voices] and challenging them to build even stronger musical skills, but also with the focus on light and joy–something that is so needed in our world,” she said.
Rome described the high school students’ sets as “a diverse journey of repertoire between the Pop Singers and the Chamber Singers,” both in their chosen composers and featured instrumentalists. The two groups will also come together for an a capella piece.
Rome hopes that audience members can “escape everyday worries and stresses, and they can enter the holiday season with a little more light in their hearts.”
“If you were to take into account how many diverse walks of life sit in the pews, it demonstrates that music is one of the most unifying ways that human beings can express themselves,” she said. “The Cathedral Concert is vital for bringing us together to enjoy the beauty of the space and sound that uplifts, inspires, gives release, and empowers.”