Choirs Sound Better Than Ever in Christmas Concert

December 13, 2011 / by / 0 Comment

Review by Doug Carroll
Communications Staff

Weary souls needing an extra push to the Christmas finish line received that welcome boost Monday night from “A Grand Canyon Christmas,” the Music Department’s annual holiday concert, at First Southern Baptist Church.

GCU’s four choirs performed for nearly two hours in all, taking a 15-minute intermission before concluding with Vivaldi’s “Gloria,” which was sung in Latin by the Choral Union. Under the direction of Dr. Juan Hernandez (Choral Union, Canyon Chorale), Dr. Sheila Corley (Canyon Singers) and Gabe Salazar (New Life Singers), the choirs collectively hit the highest note for the music program since its return to campus in the fall of 2010.

The added vocal maturity and training of the past year and a half are paying big dividends in performance, and a near-capacity crowd could tell from the opening trumpet processional that this would be a special occasion, supplying warmth on an unseasonably cold, damp evening.

The Canyon Singers, two dozen of the best voices at GCU, set the tone in their opening segment with Dan Forrest’s rich arrangement of “The First Noel,” accompanied on violin by Amanda Romani. The longtime favorite was alternately sweet and soaring, beautiful enough to bring tears to the eyes.

New Life’s jaunty, finger-snapping versions of “Let It Snow,” “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Up on the Housetop” and other popular tunes provided a breezy transition into David Hamilton’s arrangement of “Sing Gloria,” performed by the 70-member Canyon Chorale.

Featuring stellar solos by altos Lauren Bailey and Jocelyn Weddle, baritone John Luke Osorio and tenor Jonathan Gott, “Sing Gloria” was a concert within a concert. Bailey’s smooth voice is reminiscent of Amy Grant’s and was perfectly matched to the song “Christmas in Heaven.”

The concert could have ended after “Sing Gloria,” but there was something magical about nearly 100 Choral Union singers filling every space onstage for the Vivaldi work. The Choral Union is GCU’s community chorus, composed of students, faculty, staff, alumni and community members.

Mezzo-soprano Claire Penneau, fresh from a prominent role in the one-act opera “Amahl and the Night Visitors” at Ethington Theatre, was among the four impressive female soloists with the Choral Union.

Any review of the Christmas concert would be remiss without mentioning the vocal instructors who are asking for — and receiving — brilliant performances such as this one from their students in the College of Fine Arts and Production. Hernandez, Corley, Salazar, Rachel Velarde, Christopher Herrera and Philip Carr have brought first-rate choral music back to campus in an amazingly short period of time. With such a team, there is much to look forward to.

For now, though, perhaps Hernandez can get some rest. He was involved in so many projects this holiday season — “Amahl” and “Handel’s Messiah,” as well — that Dec. 25 probably can’t come soon enough for the assistant dean and his family.

Contact Doug Carroll at 639.8011 or

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