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Deck the halls with holiday concerts

The Orpheus Choral Society – celebrating its 90th anniversary – prepares for the holiday season. It has three concerts over the next three weekends.

‘March of the Wooden Soldiers’ is a highlight of the Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic Holiday Concert set for Friday at the Kirby Center and Saturday at the Scranton Cultural Center.

John Curtis Ph.D. will direct the Choral Arts of Luzerne County on Dec. 11 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Wilkes-Barre.

Bob Carey, Earl Loch, Phil Brown, Ted Rebennack and Charlie Davenport relax during intermission at a previous Barbershop Harmony Chorus concert.

The Wyoming Seminary Madrigal Singers join the school’s chorale and orchestra in a festive program of seasonal music on Sunday afternoon at the Great Hall in Kingston.

Pssst. If you go to a concert where singers suddenly sprout antlers — or a round, red nose — the next thing to expect is a visit from a certain jolly gentleman with a long, white beard.

This advice is especially directed to any children who attend “A Blessed Christmas” with the Wyoming Valley Barbershop Harmony Chorus.

The concert begins at 7 p.m. Sunday at the Shavertown United Methodist Church, where antlers and red noses won’t be the only mysteries of the evening.

“We’re going to sing ‘All I Want for Christmas is My Two Front Teeth,’ ” chorus member Bill Zdancewicz said. “Somehow, we’ll all have our teeth blacked out. It’s tricky, how we do it. The timing has to be right.”

This weekend and next, the timing seems right for a multitude of holiday music fests – though it could be a challenge to attend as many as you’d like.

Keeping in mind that some overlap, what would bring you the most pleasure? Classic carols? Ballerinas and tumbling toy soldiers? A call for the audience to join in a refrain?

Here are some details to help you choose:

The Northeastern Pennsylvania Philharmonic offers a potpourri of holiday cheer at 7 tonight at the F.M. Kirby Center and 7 p.m. tomorrow at the Scranton Cultural Center.

Local dancers will add to the charm of “The Nutcracker” and the “Parade of the Wooden Soldiers,” while Leroy Anderson’s buoyant “Sleigh Ride” will conjure images of sliding over snowdrifts.

“Sleigh Ride” does include a distinctive crack-of-the-whip sound – but, don’t worry - no horses are harmed in the process.

“It’s made by a slap-stick, two pieces of wood cracked together,” maestro Lawrence Loh explained.

Guest soloist Katy Williams will sing “O Holy Night,” “We Need a Little Christmas” and “Rejoice Greatly” from Handel’s “Messiah,” Loh said, and the audience will join in on Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.”

For a heftier dose of Handel’s famous oratorio, consider The Choral Arts of Luzerne County’s “Scenes from Handel’s Messiah,” set for 8 p.m. Dec. 11 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Wilkes-Barre.

Music director John Curtis has arranged for the narrator, the Rev. Bill Kennard, to guide the audience through settings as varied as the peaceful fields near Bethlehem where shepherds watched their flocks and ancient Babylon where the Israelites endured a forlorn exile.

“When people are shouting triumphantly (in the Hallelujah Chorus) they’re not celebrating Jesus’ birth, but a scene in which God was called upon to punish earthly kings who rebelled against him,” Curtis explained. “A movement before that calls for them to be smashed ‘like a potter’s vessel.’ ”

As far as he knows, Curtis said, no one else has used a narrator quite this way. “I feel like I’m in frontier territory.”

Kennard “has a beautiful, resonant voice,” Curtis said. “He started off in radio. He’s perfect for this.”

At Wyoming Seminary, meanwhile, music director John Vaida believes he’s arranged a program perfect for a 3 p.m. Sunday concert in the Great Hall, when the school’s Chorale and Madrigal Singers will sing Pergolesi’s “Magnificat.”

Dating from the 18th century, the Latin text is based on the Gospel of Luke’s account of the way Jesus’ mother, Mary, praised God while greeting her cousin Elizabeth.

An English translation will spell out that “He that is mighty hath done great things … holy is his name … his mercy is from generation to generation.”

Another praise piece, Vivaldi’s “Beatus Vir,” showcases the words of Psalm 111.

“These are some of the real classics. The way I look at all this repertory, I think they’re historic art,” said Vaida, who added a gospel spiritual and other lighter numbers into the mix.

Eclectic music is also on the agenda for the Cantores Christi Regis at King’s College. Tonight and Saturday at 7:30 p.m. in the campus ministry center, the student chorus will sing John Rutter’s “What Sweeter Music” and Paul Manz’s “E’en So, Lord Jesus, Quickly Come.”

Choral director Rob Yenkowski describes both as gentle numbers, the latter “almost like a lullaby with some nice crescendos.”

There will also be several “pieces everybody knows,” Yenkowski said, including “a lovely jazz arrangement of ‘Santa Claus is Coming to Town.’ ”

Tonight at 8 you might also celebrate A Von Trapp Christmas at Misericordia University, where Elisabeth Von Trapp — granddaughter of Maria and Georg – expects to intersperse international carols with tales of growing up in Vermont.

She remembers, for example, being allowed to place a piece of straw in a crèche every time she did a good deed, symbolically making the manger a more comfortable place for a baby.

The manger scene, poetically imagined to be infused with golden light, is the focus of Eric Whitacre’s “Lux Aurumque,” a musical highlight of two Robert Dale Chorale concerts this weekend.

“It’s just a gorgeous little piece,” director Steven Thomas said. “Just absolutely beautiful, very lush-sounding, very warm.”

The Chorale will be joined by the Royal Singers from Holy Redeemer High School during a concert set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday at St. Nicholas Church in Wilkes-Barre. During a 3 p.m. Sunday concert at St. Luke’s Church in Scranton, the Vivace! group from Valley View High School will be the guest artists.

“It’s a nice way to motivate some of these students to continue singing after they graduate,” Thomas said.

Sharing the stage with the school groups could also attract additional audience members, Thomas said. What with all the concerts set for December, “We have to differentiate ourselves some way. There’s almost an embarrassment of riches,” he said.

Well aware of the busy calendar, the Orpheus Choral Society has tried to make its performances accessible by scheduling three concerts over three weekends.

This Sunday, the concert is at Firwood United Methodist Church in Wilkes-Barre. On Dec. 13 it’s at Central United Methodist Church in Wilkes-Barre and on Dec. 20 it’s at Luzerne United Methodist Church.

All three concerts begin at 7 p.m. and will include sacred numbers such as “Silent Night,” a joy-filled “Let Us Celebrate” and the cute “I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus.”

This year marks the 90th anniversary of the society, which began in 1919 when 12 Welsh coal miners got together to harmonize at the former Grant Street School in Wilkes-Barre. The group invited women to join in 1952, alto Judy Heiser said.

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