Christmas choral concert wraps the classics just right
Review by Doug Carroll
GCU News Bureau
Photos by Alexis Bolze
First Southern Baptist Church had no room Tuesday night for Scrooge’s icy heart — nor a parking space for his vehicle, for that matter.
If Dickens’ notorious naysayer had deemed to attend the annual Christmas choral concert by Grand Canyon University’s Music Department, he certainly would have arrived in a foul mood. With the church’s lot full, some concertgoers had to be rerouted to the University’s parking garage and were forced to hoof it back to the church.
Inside, it was standing room only, and even GCU’s president and CEO, Brian Mueller, had trouble finding a seat. Thankfully, that’s when the four choirs — under the direction of Dr. Juan Hernandez, Dr. Sheila Corley and Gabe Salazar — took over and filled the old church with such a joyful sound that it seemed as if the whole world was praising the Christ child with one voice. Any anxieties from the day simply melted away.
“A Grand Canyon Christmas” spares none of the favorites in its concert program and has a ready-made, appreciative audience as a result. Even so, the addition last year of players from the Phoenix Symphony — an ensemble now billed as the Canyon Symphony Orchestra — has made all the difference to the richness of the experience. The concert has become a worthy second act to the University’s annual presentation of “Handel’s Messiah,” which was performed last week in the Arena with many of these singers and musicians involved.
Last night, Hernandez encouraged the audience to sing along on four of the classics (“Oh Come All Ye Faithful,” “God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen,” “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” and the closing “The First Noel”) and received plenty of takers on his offer. Lyrics were posted on screens on either side of the stage for those who needed a little help. Few did.
A big finish to the evening was supplied by the immense, 130-voice Canyon Choral Society (formerly the Choral Union), which sang the latter two of the aforementioned four songs plus “Angels From the Realms of Glory” and “O Holy Night.”
Highlights were abundant in the two-hour program, and they included:
• A superlative rendition of “We Three Kings” by the Canyon Chorale and Canyon Singers with tenor Gavin Ely, baritone Anthony Cotoia and bass John Luke Osorio out front as soloists. All three had prominent roles in the recent Ethington Theatre production of Mozart’s opera “Cosi fan tutte.”
• The outstanding beatboxing of Rylan Black on several selections by the New Life Singers, who logged nearly 70 performances in the fall semester. Whether it’s street-corner doo-wop, Pentatonix-style a cappella or more conventional fare, Salazar has 16 voices, in four parts, that sing all of it with distinction. As with most everything in the College of Fine Arts and Production, New Life has reached a new level. (And its new CD, “Captivate,” makes a great stocking stuffer.)
• A moving version of “Candlelight Carol,” a relatively recent (1984) Christmas composition by Englishman John Ritter, from the 30-voice Canyon Singers. This is Corley’s choir, and its quality is consistently outstanding.
Hernandez, whose wife, Heidi, played the harp in this configuration of the Canyon Symphony Orchestra, put the occasion in perspective for all.
“Consider the words we have sung, and take them to heart,” Hernandez told the audience before a magnificent “First Noel” sendoff, which received an extended standing ovation. “Perhaps God is speaking to you.”
That’s something for Scrooge to think about.
Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or firstname.lastname@example.org.