Washington Chorus presents virtual ‘Candlelight Christmas’ concert

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Candlelight Christmas' (Part 1)

December traditionally brings a flurry of holiday concerts around the D.C. area.

This year, The Washington Chorus presents a virtual “Candlelight Christmas” concert streaming on Dec. 18 at 7:30 p.m., Dec. 19 at 7:30 p.m. and Dec. 20 at 3 p.m.

“‘Candlelight Christmas’ has been happening at Strathmore and Kennedy Center for many years,” artistic director Eugene Rogers told WTOP. “This year, we’re having a very intimate version … keeping as many traditions as possible in this virtual format.”

The filming process happened partly at Strathmore and partly at home.

“You’ll see some virtual performances that have been recorded in everyone’s home,” Rogers said. “The audio was prerecorded, then the singers lip-synced … to those recordings. Then there were a couple of live recorded things in the hall with masks.”

The footage was then edited together into stacked windows of song.

“We call it the ‘Brady Bunch’ choir [with] grid performances,” Rogers said. “We think it’s equally beautiful as the past because it is a gorgeous hall and all of the decorations. Hopefully the variety of what you hear will make you feel the Christmas spirit.”

Which holiday songs can you expect to hear?

“You will hear ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing,’ ‘Silent Night’ [and] ‘Once in Royal David’s City,'” Rogers said. “You’ll hear some new favorites as well: Roland Carter’s ‘Mary Had a Baby,’ a Black gospel arrangement of that; a new lighthearted setting of ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas;’ then of course ‘The Dream Isaiah Saw.'”

The chorus is largely made up of volunteers who just love to sing.

“The Washington Chorus is an amazing, two-time Grammy Award-winning chorus made up of volunteers — 95% of the chorus are non-professional musicians,” Rogers said. “Some are brand new to the D.C. area and some have been in the chorus for over 30 years. You name it: attorneys, doctors, school teachers, it goes on and on.”

They’ll also be joined by special guest performers of all ages.

“Our featured guest is the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, led by department chair Dr. Monique Holmes-Spells,” Rogers said. “Then Paul Byssainthe, an award-winning organist, he’s returning as our guest organist this year. … Except for Nicole Joseph, who’s our soloist on ‘Mary Had a Baby,’ all of the other soloists come from the chorus.”

The concert runs an hour long with no intermission, but there will be spoken interludes.

“If someone purchases their ticket for one of those days and they happen to have a conflict and can’t watch it, they will be able to stream it any time through Dec. 31,” Rogers said. “We tried to keep it exactly one hour to keep the energy and interest.”

Tickets range from $15 to $60, the higher price giving you socks, snacks and swag.

“It makes for a wonderful gift,” Rogers said. “Everyone gets the perfect seat and I think in some ways a better seat. The way it was filmed, the cameras were able to capture expressions that you sometimes can’t get from the audience. The proximity to the singers, the soloists, the organists, people will feel like they have an even better view.”

He hopes the holiday concert will uplift folks at the end of a dark pandemic year.

“The messages of hope and love that I know were important as I programmed this, the connection to our community and seeing how many disparate people from different backgrounds celebrate this time of year, I think people will really feel that,” Rogers said. “It shows people coming together to remind us of the gift of music and love.”

WTOP's Jason Fraley previews 'Candlelight Christmas' (Part 2)

Listen to our full conversation here.

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