Classical Music

Houston Chamber Choir Pulls Out All The Stops This Holiday

The spirit of the holidays will fill Christ Church Cathedral with Houston Chamber Choir's Candlelight Christmas.
The spirit of the holidays will fill Christ Church Cathedral with Houston Chamber Choir's Candlelight Christmas. Photo by Jeff Grass Photography
Joyful music of the season will resound thanks to Houston Chamber Choir’s Candlelight Christmas, running Friday and Saturday at Christ Church Cathedral in downtown Houston with a streaming option available starting December 26. Special guests will be international organ recitalist Daryl Robinson and the Treble Choir of Houston, under the direction of Marianna Parnas-Simpson.

“This concert is always a highlight of our season. The Cathedral is a very historic building here in town, and when it is lit by candlelight, it is absolutely magical,” said Houston Chamber Choir Founder Bob Simspon.

In any other year, the choir typically presents its holiday show at Villa de Matel on Houston’s eastside, yet due to COVID-19 precautions, the choir selected a new venue, which brings its own unique offerings for this concert. At Christ Church Cathedral, the organ console will be placed in plain view of the audience, making it a central component of the music, which ranges from Renaissance to new favorites. It also allows the audience to see the fascinating choreography that occurs between an organist’s fingers, feet and stops – those series of buttons that line either side of the organ's keyboard.

“It's a wonderful visual display of virtuosity, and the organ has so many wonderful sounds that it creates a special mood in and of itself. For example, ‘I Saw Three Ships’ arranged by Simon Preston uses the silvery bell sounds, and there's the quality of flutes and piccolos that adds a wonderful sense of delicacy to it,” Simpson said. “There are other pieces like ‘Tomorrow Should Be My Dancing Day’ by John Gardner, where the organ works as a percussion instrument as well as the melodic instrument. The organ is as an equal partner in these pieces and brings to the music a sense of color and variety that really is a beautiful counterpart to the voices.”

Simpson also programmed music that will feature the work of chorus members for this year’s holiday show. Ryan Brown, bass singer and assistant professor with Lone Star College-University Park, arranged “Silent Night”. Matthew Lyon Hazzard interpreted a sensitive setting of “The Lamb” by William Blake. Both musicians will conduct their pieces during the concert.

The chorus will also perform songs from yore like “O Magnum Mysterium” and Harold Darke’s “In The Bleak Midwinter” along with fresh interpretations. A new arrangement of “Pat-a-Pan” by Marvin Gaspard as well as William Byrd’s “This Day Christ Was Born” might be new to audience members’ ears. Philip Stopford’s “A Christmas Blessing” will provide a haunting and emotion-filled capstone to the concert.

“[Making sure people are] enjoying the program and feeling as if the music is filling their souls…those were the first orders of business as I was selecting this program,” he said.

Of course, taking full advantage of the organ, Simpson earmarked spots for Robinson’s solo numbers to dot the set list. Plus, audience members get to participate with sing-along moments like “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing.”
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The Treble Choir of Houston will add something special to this year's Candlelight Christmas concert with Houston Chamber Choir.
Photo by Jeff Grass Photography
“It's a program that's designed to intrigue people who love choral music as well as those who are new to choral music. We want to give them that moment where they say ‘Ah, yes, now I feel like it's Christmas.’ We're doing it all in this program,” Simpson added. “This program is designed to bring everybody to a sense of joy by the conclusion of the concert….to experience the joy and the hope that comes from this music and the holiday season.”

Simpson says the goal is to return to Villa de Matel next year if the fates allow, but this year’s setting provides another unique attribute. Founded on March 16, 1839, Christ Church Cathedral was Houston’s first religious congregation and is the only one still worshiping on its original site from the days when Houston was the capital of the Republic of Texas.

Since this is the season of giving, Houston Chamber Choir is using this concert as a chance to give back to the community by accepting small toiletry items that will be donated to The Beacon and used in its Day Center program. Five days a week, individuals experiencing homelessness receive a hot meal and have access to laundry facilities and hot showers inside the facility. Small shampoos, conditioners, soaps and razors are encouraged as donation items.

The Houston Chamber Choir will present Candlelight Christmas at 7:30 p.m. Friday and 3:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday Christ Church Cathedral, 1117 Texas. For tickets or information, call 713-224-5566 or visit $10 to $25. Complimentary parking is available in the garage at 511 San Jacinto St. The concert will be available on virtual release starting December 26 on the Houston Chamber Choir Digital Stage.
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Sam Byrd is a freelance contributor to the Houston Press who loves to take in all of Houston’s sights, sounds, food and fun. He also loves helping others to discover Houston’s rich culture.
Contact: Sam Byrd