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Sounds of December

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Music is the language of the season, infusing the dark winter days before the Christmas-New Year’s holidays with songs of light and hope.

The sounds of December are ubiquitous. Shoppers at the mall are serenaded with seasonal songs both secular and sacred.

Salvation Army bells ring through the frigid air, reminding the busy throngs that the season is about giving and sharing one’s abundance with the needy. Church carillons peal the old familiar tunes of peace and good will, encouraging us to apply their messages to new times and new situations.

Holiday concerts abound in Northern New York — at schools where children raise their voices in cheerful song and proudly play their instruments, enchanting parents and community members alike. Church choirs sing the hymns of Advent, enhancing the spirit of reflection, anticipation and preparation before the birth of Jesus Christ.

Hanukkah, the Jewish Festival of Lights which was celebrated Nov. 27 to Dec. 5 this year, has a rich musical tradition as well, with songs of faith, hope and joy.

Holiday concerts provide an opportunity for the community to join together in celebrating our traditions, aspirations and hopes — and our common humanity so keenly felt this time of year.

The joyful music began on Dec. 7 and 8 with concerts at Asbury United Methodist Church when the Northern Choral Society presented its 59th annual Christmas Concert. The wonderful program arranged by Sara D. Gleason relied on 62 adult voices, 12 members of the children’s choir directed by Corrine Dartnell, The River Ringers created and directed by Jennifer Whitenack, the Society’s brass ensemble and organist Carl Bingle to put audiences who crowded the sanctuary for each concert in the Christmas spirit.

North country audiences in three locations were then treated to another such concert by the Orchestra of Northern New York this past weekend. The orchestra was joined by members of the Potsdam Community Chorus and the Northern Choral Society in presenting A Holiday Festival in Potsdam, Watertown and Massena.

From the vibrant opening notes of “Christmas Festival” at the Watertown concert Saturday night, the audience at the Dulles State Office Building sensed they were in for an inspiring, high-quality performance. The orchestra, conducted by Kenneth B. Andrews, followed with a moving arrangement of Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” and Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride,” which featured energetic children as sleigh bell ringers. The numbers were enhanced by the weather outside — the abundant snowfall and numbing cold.

The musicians moved seamlessly from popular selections to baroque and classical pieces: Correlli’s “Christmas Concerto” and excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s “The Nutcracker Ballet.” The orchestra played “Festive Sounds of Hanukkah” and the Advent hymn “O Come O Come Emmanuel.” Mr. Andrews’s interesting commentary on the music added to the audience’s enjoyment.

The Holiday Festival Chorus joined the orchestra for “This Christmastide (Jessye’s Carol)” by Donald Fraser and ringing renditions of “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah.” The audience, too, participated in the final numbers.

The Orchestra of Northern New York and Holiday Festival Chorus are to be congratulated for an outstanding and enjoyable show. The north country is blessed to have such dedicated and talented musicians. The orchestra, founded by Mr. Andrews in 1988 and comprised of musicians from New York State, New England and Canada, consistently lives up to its goal of helping to improve the quality of life in Northern New York through live performances of orchestral music.

This was a very fine concert, one that moved listeners more deeply into the spirit of the season.

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