CMU Chorale and Conservatory Singers’ Christmas Concert

Free concert to be December 11

Sunday, Dec. 11, marks a Christmas concert by The Chorale and the Conservatory Singers at Central Methodist University. The two choirs will sing separately and also unite to sing segments of Handel’s Messiah, a favorite of audiences.

The choirs will perform at 4 p.m. at Linn Memorial UMC on the Fayette campus. This home performance is open to all at no cost.

Both choirs are jointly led this year by Dr. Claude Westfall, CMU director of choral activities, and Dr. Laura Wiebe, assistant professor of music. With them will be Dr. Melissa Simons, assistant professor of music and collaborative pianist for the concert, and Janet O’Neill, accompanist for the Conservatory Singers.

Both conductors provided some background and hints of some of the works that will be performed. Wiebe said that she will direct the women of The Chorale in the first two movements of Benjamin Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, Op. 28. The first movement, “Procession,” incorporates an ancient Latin plainsong melody, while the second, “Wolcum Yole!,” is an exuberant, sonorous expression of Christmas joy. She will also lead The Chorale in a gospel-style arrangement of “Amazing Grace” by Keith McCutcheon.

Wiebe will conduct the Conservatory Singers in American colonial composer William Billings’ joyful, rhythmic Christmas work “The Shepherd’s Carol” and Norman Luboff’s delicate arrangement of the traditional Austrian carol “Still, Still, Still.”

Senior music education major Daniel Terry from St. Charles will direct the Conservatory Singers in John Rutter’s arrangement of “We Wish You a Merry Christmas.”

Westfall will conduct The Chorale in “The First Nowell,” better known as “The First Noel,” a 17th century traditional English carol, which probably had its origins in France since Noel is the French word for Christmas. He notes that many believe the song was first brought to Britain from France by wandering troubadours.

Westfall will also direct “It is Well With my Soul,” a poignant song with a faith-filled but painful background. The music is by Philip Bliss, but the text is by a man named Horatio Spafford, who was a very successful financial man in Chicago in the 1860s. Sadly, his fortunes reversed in 1871. First he lost his son to scarlet fever; then all of his property went up in smoke in the Great Chicago Fire. In 1873, he arranged for his wife and his four daughters to go by boat to England in an effort to relieve some of their grief. He was to follow shortly.

Unfortunately, their boat collided with another and all four daughters drowned. He took a boat to England to rejoin his wife, Anna. Bereft but still a man of faith, on the boat over, Spafford wrote the text “It is Well With my Soul,” which reflects his deep abiding belief in a God who watches over all and carries the pain and redemption of each soul. The song’s arrangement is by the late A Cappella Choir director and Dean of the Conservatory, Dr. R. Paul Drummond.

Westfall will lead the Conservatory Singers in Rhonda Polay’s setting of “Silent Night,” composed by Franz Gruber with text by Joseph Mohr. The song is blues style with the first verse as a solo with a free adaptation of the original melody; the second verse by the chorus is essentially original; and the third verse combines the two.

They will also perform Irvin Berlin’s famous “White Christmas,” made famous originally by Bing Crosby.

When The Chorale and Conservatory Singers join forces in the concert, they will present selections from the Christmas portion of the Messiah, including the choruses “And the Glory of the Lord,” “And He Shall Purify,” “For Unto us a Child is Born,” “Glory to God,” and “Hallelujah.” The program will also include several arias, including “O Thou that Tellest good Tidings to Zion,” sung by senior music major Aiden Smith from Fayette; and “Comfort Ye” by Daniel Terry.

The Chorale and Conservatory Singers grew out of Central’s A Cappella Choir, created by Dean Luther T. Spayde, who organized it in the fall of 1932 with 55 students, faculty, and townspeople. In 1933 it became an auditioned choir limited to Central students and faculty. Spayde, dean of the Swinney Conservatory of Music, continued to direct the choir until his death in 1972.

Dr. Marilyn Dimond stepped into the void, followed by Dr. John Roberts, Dr. John Ditto, and Dr. John Augenblick. In the fall of 1981 Dr. R. Paul Drummond became the choir’s sixth director, and he led it until his death in 2007. Dean of the Conservatory Dr. Ron Shroyer put on the mantle until he retired in 2008.


Posted December 1, 2016