Like so many other people in the weeks leading up to Christmas, Ralph Woodward gets tired of hearing the same holiday music over and over again wherever he goes. That's why the founder and director of the Salt Lake Children's Choir tries to instill a sense of what the holiday season is all about in the choir's Christmas concerts.
"We've been hearing piped-in Christmas music since Halloween," Woodward said. "It's nice to have something of a fairly lofty nature to turn to."
The Salt Lake Children's Choir will hold its annual holiday concert next weekend in the Cathedral of the Madeleine. Woodward said there should be something to please everyone. "The concert has every chance to become a rewarding experience for the children and the audience."
Woodward said that it's challenging to program a Christmas concert because of the wealth of music available, adding that it's also extremely satisfying for the same reason. "One of the things I like about this season is that we can tap into former times and be joined through the ages and be one voice. We can sing centuries-old music along with newer pieces."
Some of the music at the Christmas concert will be pieces that Woodward became fond of while living in Germany. "I draw a lot on my experience in Europe. There are a number of Christmas songs I heard in Europe that I like to program, like 'O Du Frohliche,' which is German but also sung a lot in Italy."
The children themselves also request certain pieces each year. "The choir loves Palestrina's 'Benedictus,' " Woodward said. "So we'll be doing it again this year."
Another piece on the program that the children wanted to sing is the theme from Miklos Rozsa's score to the film "King of Kings." "The kids love it. I think the music is a little commercial, but I don't want the concert to be too esoteric. And I think it will be stunning, because we're singing it with organ accompaniment."
Woodward has an extensive collection of choral music that's either written for treble voices or that he's arranged for children's choir. However, he's always on the lookout for new material. "A few years ago, I met a woman from Poland who shared many Polish carols with me." One of these, "Mary's Lullaby," which the choir will sing in Woodward's setting, will be on the program.
A particularly treasured discovery is Antonio Russo's "Venite Exsultemus Domini." "I'm really thrilled in having found this piece," Woodward said. "I had to make numerous phone calls to the publisher in Buenos Aires to get a copy of the music." He said that the children enjoy singing it, even though it's one of the most demanding pieces on the program. "They love it, and that's always gratifying."
The concert also features some well-known works, including Franck's "Panis Angelicus"; "Laudamus Te" from Vivaldi's "Gloria"; Praetorius' "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming"; and such traditional songs as "Bring a Torch, Jeanette, Isabella" and "What Child Is This?" The concert will end with an audience sing-a-long of favorite carols. Organist Ken Udy and harpist Lysa Rytting will accompany the choir.
Woodward said the choir has been singing in the Cathedral of the Madeleine since 1984. "It's great that there is a place like the cathedral where you can hear music that's appropriate and fitting."Woodward said he's looking forward to the concert. "It's wonderful that we can sing music through the ages and draw on common feelings and expectations and be part of this great tradition."