For Ralph Woodward, founder and director of the Salt Lake Children's Choir, Christmas concerts are something special and something to be anticipated. "They can be an opportunity for a multitude of musical expressions and experiences," he said in an interview with the Deseret News. "Concerts can expand the experience of the season."
That's how Woodward perceives his annual holiday concerts, which take place this coming weekend. "I see our concerts as an answer to the predictability and commercialization of Christmas."
As has been the choir's tradition for the last 30 years, the Christmas concerts feature a wide range of works from the last 500 years. "Most of the great choral music has been written to sacred texts, and much of it is appropriate to the season," Woodward said. "Composers have naturally gravitated to these texts."
Rather than taking a well-worn route with these concerts, Woodward likes to tread unfamiliar ground. "None of the things we do are overly familiar," he said. "That's refreshing for us and I think for our audiences."
Having said that, there will still be some well known works that have stood the test of time. Among these are "Come Unto Him" from George Frideric Handel's "Messiah," the Sanctus from Joseph Haydn's "Lord Nelson" Mass, the evocative "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" and the traditional Austrian carol "Still, Still, Still." "This is a season where a confluence of times and traditions can occur," Woodward said, "and part of that can be conveyed through old world warmth."
Woodward spent many years living in Germany and Austria and he always enjoyed the festive trappings that are part of the Christmas season. "There is a lot of charm, and if we can't be there in person we can go there in our imagination and tap into that through the music."
But the entire program isn't devoted to European musical traditions. Through his travels, which also took him to South America, Woodward also has a special fondness for the folk music of the region and he usually incorporates some of that into his concerts. One of the pieces this weekend is a native Peruvian song which the children will sing in the original language. "The language is called Quechua. It's the language of the Incas with hints of Spanish in it," Woodward said. "The music is quite removed from what we're used to hearin
One work that Woodward in particular is looking forward to doing again is English composer Bill Tamblyn's atmospheric "Jesu, Delightful to the Mind." "It's a profound piece. It's not done much but it's a real masterpiece."g and the words sound strange, but the meaning can be understood."
Along with the choir's holiday signature piece "Berceuse" by Henri Busser, the concert will also feature some of Woodward's own works and end with a set of traditional Christmas songs in which former choir members join the current group of singers onstage. The audience is also invited to sing along.
"It can be daunting doing a Christmas program because of the traditions and the expectations people have," Woodward said, "but it's a wonderful experience and we're happy to share it with our friends."
Accompanying the choir will be organist Ken Udy and harpist Lisa Rytting.
If you go...
What: Salt Lake Children's Choir, Ralph Woodward, director
Where: Cathedral of the Madeleine
When: 8 p.m. Dec. 3 and Dec. 5 (no performance Dec. 4)
How much: Free (children under 6 not admitted)