Making a Joyful Noise at Christmas

Every year for the past 35 Christmases, the Northwest Boychoir has performed A Festival of Lessons and Carols, a Christmas program designed after the famous one at Kings College, Cambridge, England. It’s a wonderful way to get into the Christmas spirit, not only hearing the boys sing their hearts out, but for us in the audience to sing lustily also, making a truly joyful noise and leaving exhilarated.

Sunday night the Boychoir performed the second of 11 performances between now and Dec. 23 at locations all around Puget Sound. This one was at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Laurelhurst, and the Boychoir was joined by the girls and the older boys, whose voices have broken, of Vocalpoint! Seattle.

The result was 90 young voices singing arrangements of mostly familiar carols, plus a few from Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, sometimes with solos, sometimes the younger boys only, sometimes the older, sometimes both together, in parts or in unison.  Each choir-sung carol was followed by one for audience and choirs together, and here the girls took the lead with descants soaring above the main melody, lifting the roof off the church.

The format is simple: processional carols coming in, then nine lessons telling the tale of the nativity and its history from Adam and Eve on, each one read by a boy, and followed by first a choir carol and then one for everybody. At the end the choirs sing as they process out. This is all conducted by Joseph Crnko, the long term director of these choirs, with energy and clear direction for his young singers.

These are excellent choirs. They sing with vitality and expression, with words so clear you can hear every one. Although they have song folders, they tuck them under their arms when singing.  Solo singers sing with ease, not sounding nervous. Pitch sense is also excellent.

Some favorite carols, for instance, “In Dulci Jubilo,” had been given new harmonies in arrangements, some by Crnko, some by others. Maybe these freshened interest in them, but I still prefer the old versions, though I very much liked Crnko’s arrangement of the gospel carol, “Sweet Little Jesus Boy.”

The Vocalpoint! Boys sang “Rui Riu Chiu” a cappella accompanied by tambourine, giving the whole a terrific pulse; while the younger boys’ timing was spot-on in the syncopated “Shepherds’ Pipe Carol.”

It seemed a shame to accompany these with piano (and not a marvelous instrument either), played by Matthew Goodrich, rather than lending this performance the majesty of the organ, which would also give it more of a sense of occasion.

However, that is a quibble, and as the choir processed out to the sound of “Joy to the World,” the audience applauded long and with smiles and hugs all around, in a Christmas spirit.