Christmas Concerts 2021: Notes from the Artistic Director

Since 1907, huge crowds have gathered at New York City’s Time Square to celebrate the transition into a New Year. But the annual Ball Drop tradition has a predecessor.  Many would gather at churches such as Trinity Wall Street to hear the church bells ring at the stroke of midnight. In fact, this centuries-old tradition is the likely origin of the expression “ring in the New Year.”

For 43 years, the Hickory Choral Society has helped ring in the holiday season for the community through our annual Christmas concerts. We’re excited to resume this tradition in person. After a year of virtual choir music making where singers couldn’t hear each other’s voices resonate when rehearsing or performing, we are making up for lost time, a desire reflected in this year’s concert theme Earth Shall Ring!. We’re ready to “let it rip,” so to speak, and will perform vibrant, powerful selections such as Rosephayne Powell’s “Christus natus est,” “Ring Out, Ye Crystal Spheres” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and “It’s the Spirit of the Season” from The Polar Express.

The theme of “ringing” is also reflected in the words the choir will sing. Lara Hoggard’s “Personent Hodie,” which has opened the HCS Christmas concert for forty plus years, literally translates as “resound today!” The most famous English poetic translation of this Latin text is “On this Day, Earth Shall Ring.” The choir will also sing Mack Wilberg’s arrangement of “I Saw Three Ships.” Midway through the carol, there’s an interlude played by bells. The arranger instructs performers to use “as many bells as possible…to fill the venue with the various sonorities of bells.” Following the interlude, the choir re-enters boldly, singing the text “And all the bells on Earth Shall Ring.” The topic of bells is also featured in the familiar “Carol of the Bells,” “Silver Bells,” and “Ding Dong! Merrily on High.”

Handel’s “Glory to God,” from Messiah, Libby Larsen’s “A Simple Gloria,” and stanza three of “O Come All Ye Faithful” (Sing choirs of angels…) will all serve as a nod to the very first Christmas “ringers,” the angels who sang to the shepherds. And as its title suggests, Mack Wilberg’s “The First Noel” also tells the story of the first Christmas and concludes with a notable directive: “Then let us all with one accord, SING.”

Whether you will hear the sounds of the Christmas concert in person reverberating in Corinth Reformed Church or through speakers as you watch the Saturday live-stream at home, we invite you to ring in the 2021 holiday season with the Hickory Choral Society.

-Dr Ryan Luhrs