Laura Seitz, Deseret Morning News
The Salt Lake Children's Choir will perform its Christmas concert at the Cathedral of the Madeleine.

After more than a quarter-century of directing the Salt Lake Children's Choir, Ralph B. Woodward is as enthusiastic today as he was when he presented the choir at its first public concert in December 1979.

Those kids are now grown with their own children, many of whom are in the choir now. And that first Christmas concert has spawned a holiday tradition that people look forward to each year — and not just by those who have their sons or daughters singing in the choir.

For many along the Wasatch Front, the annual Christmas concert in the Cathedral of the Madeleine is one holiday event that they look forward to all year long. And Woodward is one of them. "It's going to be a great concert. We have a good program that I think people will enjoy. And we have a strong choir this year who will rise to the occasion."

Woodward never gets tired of it. That's partly because he loves working with the children and partly because he loves the music — in particular holiday music. There is a vast repertoire of music to choose from. And Woodward likes to program a wide variety of works: early music, familiar Christmas carols, contemporary pieces, original compositions.

"We have a tradition of starting the kids with music from ages past," he said. "I like to establish that special feeling you get from early music, and that's not hard to do in the cathedral."

Woodward will open the concert with a couple of old German songs, "Lobt Gott Ihr Christen Alle Gleich" and "From Heav'n Above." There will also be a "Benedictus" by Palestrina, one of Woodward's favored composers. "This 'Benedictus' is a wonderful piece of music; it's a real gem. When you pick it apart, the imagery and counterpoint is amazing. I never cease to marvel at his musical mind."

Other pieces the choir will be singing are "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming" and "Il Est Ne." "I like traditional songs like these," Woodward said. "We do these every year."

Among other familiar pieces on the program are "Pat-A-Pan," "Oh Leave Your Sheep" and "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly."

However, Woodward said the high point will be "The Three Kings." "This is a very powerful piece." He said he became acquainted with it when the children's choir did a joint Christmas concert with his father's community choir. "That was in the mid-'80s in the cathedral. When I heard it, I was very moved by it."

Woodward wanted to do it but he only knew it as a four-part song. "When I discovered later that it was available for treble choir, I got hold of it immediately. It's rarely done in this version, but it's very effective."

A couple of other lovely contemporary Christmas songs that Woodward has programmed are "The Newborn King" and "One Starry Night" by Robert Leaf. "I enjoy them. They're real gems."

Fortunately for Woodward, the kids love to sing whatever he presents them with. "They let me know what they like, and they meet whatever challenges I put before them."

Of course, the choir's Christmas concert wouldn't be as memorable without the traditional sing-along, when Woodward invites former choristers to join the current choir. "We're going to end with the same old things, our Christmas carols with descant."

The carols that will be sung are "The First Noel," "O Come All Ye Faithful," "Silent Night" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing." Harpist Lisa Rytting and organist Ken Udy will accompany.

KBYU-FM Classical 89, will broadcast last year's Christmas concert four times this year: Dec. 3 at 8 p.m., Dec. 18 at 1 p.m., Dec. 21 at 9 p.m., and Dec. 25 at 2 p.m.

If you go

What: Salt Lake Children's Choir, Ralph B. Woodward

Where: Cathedral of the Madeleine, 331 E. South Temple

When: Saturday and Dec. 3, 8 p.m.

How much: Free (no children under 6)

E-mail: [email protected]