SALT LAKE CHILDREN'S CHOIR, Cathedral of the Madeleine, Dec. 5

Nothing captures the wonder and excitement of Christmas more than children singing the great carols and hymns of the season. And no one conveys the spirit and character of the holiday more than the Salt Lake Children's Choir.

For 30 years they've invoked the solemnity and joy with their programs that bring together favorites and music by some of the most significant composers through the ages.

Under the direction of founder Ralph Woodward, the choir has been a staple of the holidays for three decades. Their concerts in the Cathedral of the Madeleine herald in the season and are always well attended. And for good reason: one can hardly find a better way to spend a couple of hours celebrating Christmas. Woodward certainly knows how to program these concerts.

There is always something for everyone, and the children, who range in age from around 8 to 16, sing with an exuberance and enthusiasm. It's infectious and brings a smile to everyone in attendance.

Over the years, the choir has developed some traditions, from which Woodward doesn't stray too far. One can always expect music from the old masters, along with some traditional South American songs and pieces by Woodward himself. And this past weekend's concert was no exception.

The kids opened with Giovanni da Palestrina's "Osanna in Exclesis" and followed that with the old French tune "Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent" and the 15th century German hymn "Savior of the Nations, Come."

There were some other renaissance and baroque pieces on the program by Orlando di Lasso and George Frideric Handel, as well as Michael Praetorius' lovely "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," without question one of the most touching songs of the season ever written and which the children sang with feeling and lyricism.

There were a couple of contemporary works, too: Alan Johnson's evocative "Prophecy" and Bill Tamblyn's mystical and wonderfully spiritual "Jesu, Delightful to the Mind." And Henri B├╝sser's gorgeous "Berceuse," one of the choir's signature pieces, was also sung.

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Besides being a choral director, Woodward is also a talented composer who has written a large volume of works for young voices, and no concert by the Salt Lake Children's Choir would be complete without a few of them on the program. Among the ones that really stood out were the contemplative "Alleluia Mistica" and "Wondrous Birth."

The concert concluded with former choir members joining the current ensemble in a sing along that included "The First Noel" "O Come, All Ye Faithful," "Silent Night" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."