Of the two major concerts the Salt Lake Children's Choir performs each season, the Christmas concert is director Ralph Woodward's favorite by far.
"This concert for me personally is very satisfying, because there are so many facets of what Christmas is," he told the Deseret News. "And I like to show that by bringing a convergence of ages and cultures together at these concerts. I find that to be a very inspiring experience."
And after almost three decades of directing the choir he founded, Woodward said there is a wealth of music from which to choose. "As the years go by with this choir, the resources seem to grow on which to draw for our Christmas concerts."
The concerts take place this weekend in the Cathedral of the Madeleine. Accompanying the choir will be harpist Lisa Rytting and organist Ken Udy, two long time collaborators of the choir.
True to tradition, the program starts out with a set of early music. "I almost feel obligated to do something from the Italian renaissance every year, especially Palestrina," said Woodward, who admires Palestrina for the sheer richness of his music. "His music is a beautiful tapestry of interwoven sound. And so much of it works well for this kind of ensemble and the kids love it."
Even though Woodward enjoys introducing new pieces into the choir's Christmas repertoire and concerts, part of the choir's tradition also rests on a number of songs and carols that find their way into every program. Among these are "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming," "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly, "Oh Leave Your Sheep" and "Pat-a-Pan."
"All of these are pieces we're almost expected to sing," Woodward said.
Several of Woodward's works from his own large output will be sung as well. Among them is "Little Star," a piece the choir hasn't sung in years. "We're dusting it off for these concerts. We haven't done it in a long time, but when we did it with the Tabernacle Choir back in 1984, it was very popular."
Another of Woodward's pieces he's reviving is a setting of the "Gloria." "It's really a very difficult piece," he said. "It's polyrhythmic and in five parts. I keep threatening to yank it, but the kids want to do it."
Woodward's Calypso-inspired "The Little Holy Boy" is also on the program, as well as his arrangement of a Peruvian song. "I asked someone I know who's from Peru about Christmas songs. They sang it and I wrote it down and arranged it for the choir. I tried to include some typical Andean harmonies into the piece."
Before Henri Busser's "Berceuse," which has become the choir's signature Christmas piece, and the traditional audience sing-along at which former choir members come up and join the current group of singers, the ensemble will sing Gabriel Faure's "Tantum Ergo." "This is such a beautiful, worshipful text, and it's just a lovely, lovely setting."
With this concert Woodward believes he's covered the bases in presenting the multifaceted aspects of Christmas. "I think this concert opens the door to many different elements. This is a time of introspection and discovery, and I think we've done that with this program. And I think we've also shown that there is a spiritual component to all of this. That's something I want to bring out."
Making his job easier is the fact that the choir enjoys performing these works. "I am always gratified at their ability to appreciate the real worth of this music," Woodward said. "You don't have to lower your standards for kids. They know what's good."KBYU-FM, Classical 89, will broadcast last year's Christmas concert on Dec. 18 at 6 p.m. and on Dec. 24 at midnight.
If you go ...
What: Salt Lake Children's Choir, Ralph Woodward, director
Where: Cathedral of the Madeleine, 331 E. South Temple
When: Saturday, Dec. 6, and Sunday, Dec. 7, 8 p.m.
How much: Free (children 6 and older will be admitted)