SALT LAKE CHILDREN'S CHOIR, Cathedral of the Madeleine, Saturday, Dec. 4, 8 p.m. Second performance Sunday, Dec. 5, 8 p.m. Free of charge.Ralph Woodward and his 80-voice Salt Lake Children's Choir gave an exciting concert of holiday music Saturday evening. Deftly blending well-known Christmas music with some lesser-known pieces, and even some contemporary songs, Woodward created a program that was simply terrific.

Woodward has done a tremendous job with the choir. These young singers were magnificent. They sang with a clarity and precision that was quite remarkable. They infused new life and spirit into all of the well-known holiday favorites.

Woodward divided his choir into two groups, with the older singers in one group and the younger ones in their own section. The older children opened the concert with a contemporary song, "So Prays the Mother Mary," by Frank Ahrold. This melodic piece blends contemporary with more traditional harmonies in a well-balanced and structured setting.

There were several other newer works on the program, too, including five by Woodward, who showed himself to be a fine composer. His pieces were all diverse and interesting, and they brought out the distinct characteristics present in a children's choir.

"Children Sing!" is a charming, lively little piece. "The Travelers" is a descriptive number that has a sense of urgency to it, whereas "Gentle Jesus" is a quiet, serene song. All these were sung by the younger children. The older group did Woodward's vivacious "Therefore Be Merry" and the more pensive "Do You Know What They Sang?"

Woodward also arranged the majority of the songs that were performed, and here, too, he exhibited a flair for bringing out the best in a children's choir.

Most of the numbers on the program were accompanied by Talia Anderson on harp. Anderson is a wonderful harpist, and her accompaniments blended exceptionally well with the voices.

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Some of the highlights of the concert included an especially poignant interpretation of Praetorius' "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," which is without question one of the loveliest songs ever written for the Christmas season.

The older children were also superb in the Czech carol, "Hark Now, O Shepherds" and the German "O du froehliche," both of which were sung a cappella.

The program ended with popular Christmas songs in which the audience was invited to join.

The Salt Lake Children's Choir is definitely one choral group that should not be missed. This choir is great.