Finding the notes of a very choral Christmas
The Mormon Tabernacle Choir is one of Salt Lake City's most famous attractions, but it's far from the only show in town. The state is home to dozens of all-volunteer choirs. Especially during the Christmas season, in Utah's capitol city it seems that choral music is everywhere.
Tracking numbers is difficult, partly because so many singers perform in more than one choir. Some 42.6 million Americans regularly sing in choruses according to a 2009 Chorus America study, said Jean Applonie, president of the American Choral Directors Association's Utah chapter and director of the Brigham Young University Women's Chorus.
Extrapolating for Utah's population, that's more than 390,000 singers here, and Applonie agrees with the conventional wisdom that the Beehive State has higher-than-average participation. She estimated there are at least 100 community choirs across the state not including those affiliated with a school or church.
Utah is a choral hotbed, said former Tabernacle Choir music director Craig Jessop, now dean of the Caine College of the Arts at Utah State University and director of Logan's 260-voice American Festival Chorus. A frequent guest conductor and clinician at festivals all over the nation, Jessop noted that Utah is one of the three states with a "phenomenal" tradition of choral singing; Minnesota and Texas are the others. He credits that in large part to strong religious traditions in each state Lutheran, Southern Baptist and LDS that have "always been associated with choral music through the ages."
What is it about singing that gets people to spend hours each week in rehearsal? Most singers mention the camaraderie.
"I love the collaboration," said Carter Durham, a Provo marketing professional who drives to Salt Lake City for weekly rehearsals of Utah Chamber Artists. "I have no interest in being a soloist, but there is something irresistible to me about creating harmonies with other voices my contribution is critical, yet by itself it doesn't have nearly the same impact as the cumulative effect of all the voices. I love the communal experience of creating something beautiful with a bunch of people, each of us with our own part to play."
Choral singing, it seems, can be a great equalizer. "Every week, hundreds of people make time in their lives for music grocery store clerks, physicians, lawyers, schoolteachers, guys who work construction," said Michael Huff, Utah Voices artistic director and visiting associate professor at USU.
And a chorus can bring together people across class, religion or political divides. "It's amazing the people I've sung with the various backgrounds," said Ron Webb, an algebra teacher and head track coach at West High. Webb sang in the Viva Voce! men's chorus for a few years and plans to resume singing in the Westminster Community Choir when his schedule frees up at the beginning of the year.
"Everybody is there for the same reason," he said of his choir experiences. "We may not see eye to eye on everything in life, but we see eye to eye on music."
Kiersten Honaker, an elementary-school English teacher and longtime member of Salt Lake Choral Artists, met in choir one of her best friends, a research scientist who she considers her complete opposite in many ways. "We never would have met otherwise," she said.
In addition to the 2 1/2-hour weekly rehearsal with SLCA's main concert choir, Honaker puts in a half-hour every week with the group's chamber choir and another 2 1/2 hours with Salt Lake Vocal Artists, the organization's recording and touring arm.
Honaker isn't alone in her dedication. West Valley City real-estate agent Karyn Bunnell performs with the 300-plus-voice devotional choir Sterling Singers, as well as the South Jordan City-sponsored Sounds of the Season and its spinoff women's chorus, the DeciBelles. "I just love singing songs of praise," Bunnell said. "It's another opportunity to rejoice and serve by singing."
That kind of schedule leads to a revolving rehearsal schedule, yet you don't hear many Utah singers complaining. "Because music is a priority in our lives, we make time for it," said Utah Voices managing director Juliann Kitzmiller, who also sings in the 180-voice Bountiful-based chorus.
The payoff is in the process, Carter Durham says. "I honestly love the rehearsals more than the performances," he said. "I feel privileged to experience it. I feel like the music means a lot more to me than I mean to it. Not a rehearsal goes by during which I don't get goosebumps at some point. That is why I make the sacrifices to be a part of a community choir."
Yuletide carols being sung by a choir
Here are a dozen upcoming choral performances in Utah.
Dec. 3: Utah Chamber Artists • Carols of Alfred Burt, Abbie Burt Betinis and Barlow Bradford. 7:30 p.m. in Libby Gardner Concert Hall, 1375 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City; advance tickets $15, $10 for students; 801-581-7100 or utahchamberartists.org.
Dec. 7-8: University of Utah Choirs and Orchestra • Chamber Choir, A Cappella Choir, Women's Chorus, Philharmonia Chamber Orchestra and Harp Ensemble. 7:30 p.m. in Libby Gardner Concert Hall, 1375 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City; $10, free for U. of U. students, $6 for other students and seniors.
Dec. 8: American West Symphony of Sandy and American West Symphony Chorus • Excerpts from Handel's "Messiah," carols by John Rutter and Natalie Sleeth, a carol sing-along and more. 8 p.m. at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church, 8600 S. 700 East, Sandy; $10, with discounts for students and youth. Also with pianist Kristofer Michaels, including music of Beethoven and Rachmaninoff; Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m. in Libby Gardner Concert Hall, 1375 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City; $10, free for students.
Dec. 8: Choral Arts Society of Utah Holiday Pops Concert • Pianist Paul Cardall joins the choir and West Valley Symphony as well as a special guest in a red suit. 7:30 p.m. at Cottonwood High School, 5715 S. 1300 East, Murray; $15 at http://www.smithstix.com, 801-467-8499 or 800-888-8499. Information: http://www.casu.org.
Dec. 8: Murray Symphony and Mapleton Chorale • The hundred-member Mapleton Chorale travels from Utah County to sing with the Murray Symphony. 7:30 p.m. at Murray High School, 5440 S. State St.; free, but concertgoers are asked to bring a canned food item for the Utah Food Bank.
Dec. 13-15: Mormon Tabernacle Choir • Alfie Boe and Tom Brokaw join the choir, Orchestra at Temple Square and throngs of dancers for the annual spectacular. 8 p.m.; Boe also will appear on the 9:30 a.m. broadcast of "Music and the Spoken Word" on Dec. 16, with mini-concert to follow. At the LDS Conference Center, 60 E. North Temple, Salt Lake City; the free tickets have all been distributed, but prospects for standby seating look good.
Dec. 14 and 21: Madeleine Choir School performs "A Ceremony of Carols" • The annual presentations of Benjamin Britten's carol cycle are a highlight of Salt Lake City's Christmas season. 12:15 p.m. in the Cathedral of the Madeleine, 331 E. South Temple, Salt Lake City; free.
Dec. 15: "Amahl and the Night Visitors" • The Salt Lake Symphony and University of Utah Lyric Opera Ensemble team up in Giancarlo Menotti's beloved opera. 7:30 p.m. in Libby Gardner Concert Hall at the University of Utah, 1375 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City; $10, $5 for seniors and students and free for U. of U. students.
Dec. 16: West Jordan Symphony "Messiah" Sing-in • The Mountain West Chorale and guest soloists will join the orchestra and audience in selections from the oratorio. 7 p.m. at the Jordan Oaks LDS Stake Center, 8117 S. Leslie Drive (3905 West), West Jordan; free.
Dec. 17, 18 and 24: Christmas Carol Services at the Cathedral of the Madeleine • Music of the Advent and Christmas seasons. 8 p.m. Dec. 17 and 18; 4 p.m. Christmas Eve, at the Cathedral of the Madeleine, 331 E. South Temple, Salt Lake City; free.
Dec. 20: "Welcome, Happy Morn!" with Utah Voices • The community choir will perform songs, carols and hymns of the Christmas season, from "O Magnum Mysterium" to "Betelehemu." 7:30 p.m. in Libby Gardner Concert Hall, 1375 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City; $10 at http://www.utahvoices.org.
Dec. 22: "O Yule Full of Gladness" with the Salt Lake Choral Artists • The organization's five choirs perform "carols and traditional songs from six continents and the islands of the seas." 2 and 7:30 p.m. at Libby Gardner Concert Hall, 1375 E. Presidents Circle, Salt Lake City. Information: http://www.saltlakechoralartists.org.