Christmas Concerts focus on the reason for the season

Posted on Nov 22, 2017 by

In one weekend, we will reach almost 2,000 people with a message of Christian salvation—a break from the commercialization of the holiday. NewVoices has presented a program of completely sacred music since 2012 and audiences have grown to the point that additional concerts were added. We will again expand our Christmas program to three concerts: two in Appleton and one in Green Bay.

“We love Santa as much as anyone else, but our Christmas program is one of the few completely spiritual concerts of the season,” said Jason Henderson, executive director of newVoices choir. “Our audience members tell us they make our concert part of their family tradition.” Since adopting a sacred program format, attendance at the holiday concerts has more than doubled.

“It may sound trite, but there is a ‘reason for the season,’ and very few things remind us of that as much as this Christmas concert,” said Mary Harp Jirschele, Appleton. Her family and guests have been attending newVoices Christmas concerts for many years. “It is a night that allows us to close off all the commercialism of the holidays and escape our sometimes-chaotic world. It’s a powerful, emotional experience, and one that we’ve made a holiday tradition.” Harp Jirschele said.

“Going to hear newVoices is our gateway to Christmas,” said Michael Sajbel, Menasha. “It’s wonderfully refreshing that they perform so many spiritually-based classics as well as explore exciting new compositions.”

“The newVoices holiday concert has become a family tradition for my parents and me,” said Lee Snodgrass, Appleton. “It always provides a respite from the frenzy of the holiday season where we can share the space together enjoying beautiful music and peaceful reflection,” she said.

The theme of peace is one of Artistic Director Dr. Phillip Swan’s program inspirations for this concert. He created a tradition of ending the concert with a selection that combines “Silent Night” with a gentle “Peace, Peace” melody sung by candlelight throughout the concert hall. A recent composition by Elaine Hagenberg, “Sweetest Music, Softly Stealing,” repeats the text “Glory unto God the Father, who has sent his only Son/That He may all he nations gather ‘round His feet and make them one.”

“In our current social climate, I think we really need some peace in the world,” Swan said. “The message of Christmas is peace on earth and goodwill to all men and there’s no better time to focus on the celebration this season brings than through music.”

He programmed several songs by new composers that interpret traditional melodies or texts in fresh way. “See Amid the Winter’s Snow” by Dan Forrest is a new arrangement of a traditional carol; “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Abbie Betinis provides a vibrant rendition of a favorite carol.

“These selections are all traditional, well-known carols in new settings which brings a freshness to hearing them again,” Swan said.

Concerts will feature a “mini masterwork” as a centerpiece of the performance—“Three Nativity Carols” by Stephen Paulus, a contemporary Minnesota composer. This festive work sets familiar fifteenth-century English carols with imaginative harmonies and unexpected rhythm changes. The work will be accompanied by harp and flute. “The music has an ancient flavor, yet it is familiar and very celebratory,” Swan said.

The concerts will feature The Lawrence University Academy of Music Young Men’s Chorus joining newVoices on a few selections. This is a new ensemble specifically for teens whose voices have changed and keeps young men connected with choral music. Guest organist Kathrine Handford will accompany the choir and play with the audience in sing-alongs of familiar carols. Handford is an organ instructor at Lawrence University and in Appleton will be playing the magnificent 33-foot-tall Brombaugh Organ that is the centerpiece of the Lawrence Memorial Chapel stage.


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