A New Sled or A Lump of Coal?

The Holiday Concert 2009 produced by the University of Tennessee School of Music was free, so there really was no excuse not to attend—except the persistent issue of finding a seat at a very popular event. But, afterward, racked by philosophical vexations, I had to ask myself, why should one attend?

Don’t get me wrong—there were some truly excellent and entertaining musical moments in the long, long evening of five choral groups, four ovations, three conductors, two persistent talkers behind me, and well…you know. With those excellent moments came the awareness, though, that the concert was not really about holiday choral music, professional preparation, or warm, cheery togetherness as much as it was about a particular participatory ritual that has grown up around the tradition of a December music program for students and their relatives. For the participants, these moments will no doubt be the fond nostalgia of years to come. But what about the audience of non-relatives? Two questions come to mind. Is participation as an educational experience alone a justification for a concert? And what happens to the educational experience when “extravaganza” and quantity overwhelm quality?

Musically, among the highlights of the evening were performances from the Chamber Singers who provided, under the direction of Angela Batey, a couple of really marvelous works:  Morten Lauridsen’s O magnum mysterium and their opener Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence.  Dr. Batey’s excellent ensemble certainly deserves more attention.

The Women’s Chorale, directed by Kevin Crowe, offered an intriguing The Snow by Edward Elgar with violinists Irina Fatykhova and Tiago Ellwanger. Humor kept the evening moving in the Men’s Chorale performance of Christmas Medley arranged by Richard Gregory. Gregory has adapted the work (or allowed it to be adapted)  to fit different times since the 50s; a version of it put the male a capella group Straight No Chaser on the map.  The ensemble also did a fine Franz Biebl Ave Maria—and in an interesting contrast, Betelhemu. I also liked Wendel Werner’s arrangement for his UT Singers—Christmas Songs.

As Holiday 2009 becomes a memory, I urge interested listeners to check here and in Metro Pulse for news and listings of the UT School of Music Choral Ensembles’ further adventures in music.

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