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University choirs, orchestra celebrate holiday season with annual concert

Last Saturday, Dec. 3, the University of Maine School of Performing Arts held its 39th annual Yuletide Holiday Concert at the Collins Center for the Arts (CCA). The musical celebration featured all four of the university’s choirs, which are the University Singers, Collegiate Chorale, Black Bear Men’s Chorus and the Oratorio Society.

Each choir and the University Orchestra performed their own repertoire. In the end, a combined choir of 175 singers performed well-known Christmas classics along with the orchestra.

The Yuletide Holiday Concert was directed by Francis J. Vogt, who is the director of choral activities at UMaine. In addition to conducting University Singers and Oratorio Society, Vogt conducted one of three pieces performed by the combined choir and the orchestra.

“Conducting both singers and the orchestra is challenging and a lot to keep track of, but it’s
really fun when it comes together,” Vogt said.

It is a Yuletide Holiday Concert tradition and a learning opportunity to have students conduct alongside faculty. All three of Collegiate Chorale’s pieces were conducted by students.

There were more than 650 people in the audience. During the performances, the audience remained silent, afraid to break the magic of the sound. As the choirs sang the last long notes of the choruses, the audience held their breath in suspense.

“I like the adrenaline of going on stage, and performing in front of the crowd. If I can make them happy or bring them cheer, then I’ve done my job,” Trey Warren, a Black Bear Men’s Chorus singer, said.

Warren, a fourth-year, has been singing with the Black Bear Men’s Choir since his first year at UMaine. He greatly enjoys singing with people of different ages and backgrounds. Black Bear Men’s Chorus is open for students, members of community and faculty to join.

“Elder people sound different. If you have a lot of younger voices, they can sound the same. It’s also nice to meet the members of the community,” Warren said.
Music education graduate student Ben McNaboe arranged “Yuletide Celebration” for the combined choirs and orchestra. This piece featured holiday classics such as “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” “Silent Night,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and “Jingle Bells,” which was accompanied by actual jingle bells.

The final piece of the evening “Hallelujah Chorus” from “Messiah” brought the audience to their feet. The reason for that was originated in the first London performance of George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah.” It is believed that King George II was present in the audience and as he heard the first triumphant notes of the chorus, the king rose to his feet and remained standing. Royal protocol dictates that when the monarch stands, everyone in their presence is required to stand. Therefore, the entire audience remained standing during the performance, initiating a tradition that has lasted to this day.
Black Bear Men’s Chorus singer Kurt Schaller has been performing in the Yuletide Holiday Concert for 16 years. Schaller knows other singers who have performed in the concert for over 30 years.
“I love to sing and I love what singing does to other people. Singing is my outlet, it’s my away from everyday land. Outside — is every day, in here — it’s fantasy land,” Schaller said.

Schaller shared that there are several audience members who keep coming back to the concert every year.
“It’s so great to see the same faces show up because they love the group and the whole concert,” Schaller said.

Performing with the orchestra was last year’s newest addition to the Yuletide Holiday Concert.

“When you’re used to hearing a piano, and all of a sudden you get thrown in with the full orchestra, sometimes it throws you off,” Schaller said. “But it’s a great challenge and great to be able to sing with the orchestra.”

Positive feedback from the audience is the most rewarding part for Kayla Gayton, who performed with University Singers and the Oratorio Society.

“To have a stranger come up to me and say ‘you did a fabulous job’ means a lot to me,” Gayton said.

Gayton shared that the most challenging part was the extensive vocal demand.

“Your voice is pretty tired by the end of [the concert], but it’s all a labor of love, because we all just love what we do and love to share it with people who come to see the concert,” Gayton said.

The combined choirs only practiced twice with the orchestra before the show. Despite that, they received a standing ovation from the audience at the end.

“As they say, it takes two practices and a miracle,” Schaller said.

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