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Home / Articles / Santa Fe Guides / Winter Guide /  Making Spirits Bright
Schola-Cantorum-of-SFe

Making Spirits Bright

Christmas carols are more than just pretty tunes

November 10, 2010, 1:00 am
We all know the story or, at least, most of us do. Toward the end of the year in AD 1, a bunch of shepherds and wise men all went to Bethlehem to see a pretty special baby born to a virgin in a hay loft. The North Star was shining, the sheep were bleating and all was calm on that holy night.

Only, that’s probably not exactly what happened.

In December in Israel, shepherds weren’t tending their sheep—the season was all wrong. The North Star isn’t visible in the night sky during winter, so there wouldn’t have been a big bright beacon for all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant to follow. And don’t even ask about the consensus that Mary and Joseph were traveling to Bethlehem—historical accounts of that event are all over the place. All in all, some think it can be safely said that Jesus probably was born in the spring.

So what’s up with Christmas falling on Dec. 25?

Anyone who has spent a winter in the Northern Hemisphere shouldn’t be surprised that this bright, festive holiday occurs (albeit artificially) during one of the darkest times of the year. The days are short, the nights are freezing and food is scarce (well, at least it was before the advent of supermarkets). What a perfect time to string lights in the trees; invite friends over for warm, delicious meals; and spend the nights singing happy songs at the top of your lungs.

From farolitos to blazing fireplaces, Santa Fe is well-versed in making wintertime bearable—even preferable. Plus, with a happy glut of choral groups on hand to perform that charming Christmas music, there are plenty of reasons to emerge from under the blankets.

It makes sense that when you’re looking for cheerful Christmas music, you’d be best advised to look to one of the darkest parts of the world—surely, people there know how to brighten the days. Josh Habermann, music director of the Santa Fe Desert Chorale, knows this better than most. He spent time as an exchange student in Sweden and recognizes the formidable choral tradition of Scandanavian countries. Thus, he takes his cue from those dark places for part of the Desert Chorale’s Christmas program. Scandanavian carols are especially lush and beautiful, Habermann says: “They need to combat the gloomy, cold winter.”

When it comes to putting together the program, Habermann says, “It’s a little like cooking; we’re always looking for balances.” The Chorale’s Christmas concert, then, is set to include some less familiar music from around the world, some more familiar carols, plus some older, more traditional music in exciting new arrangements.

That traditional music is certainly a big part of Christmas concerts. While contemporary music is always fun, part of holiday concerts’ appeal is hearing songs that you may have heard your entire life. Billy Turney, director and founder of Schola Cantorum of Santa Fe (which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year), appreciates the need for a comfortable and friendly feeling during the holidays.

Schola Cantorum, primarily a sacred music ensemble that specializes in near-ancient Gregorian chants, will cover a lot of ground for its holiday concerts, and perform music from the 16th century as well as new arrangements of traditional songs. Schola Cantorum presents two programs: Nol Nouvelet—The First Christmas, a collection of holiday music from medieval times on up through the present day, and El Niño—The Christ Child, a program of Spanish and northern New Mexican alabados (traditional religious songs).

Not only are Schola Cantorum’s concerts free to the public (though a goodwill donation would be nice) but, after El Niño—The Christ Child at the San Miguel Mission, the audience is invited to a reception at the Oldest House, complete with biscochitos, a meet-and-greet and possible spontaneous burstings-into-song.

Like Schola Cantorum, the Santa Fe Women’s Ensemble also celebrates an anniversary—its 30th. For 24 of those years, music director Linda Raney has helmed the 14-woman chorus. For this special anniversary concert, Raney chose to highlight Christmas commissions the chorus has sung over the years. Raney ambitiously commits to commissioning one new piece every year, so that makes for an impressive music collection created by notable composers just for the ensemble.

Raney takes to heart the idea of Christmas concerts needing to be bright and cheerful affairs: “A lot of our texts talk about driving the dark away; the sun is coming—we have at least three pieces that make those sorts of references,” she says. “When times are hard, people have a wonderful capacity to look at ways of bolstering spirits and giving hope in a time that seems so desperate.”

Christmas is the perfect opportunity, no matter what your religious preference, to join in with warm-hearted partying and to listen to happy music. Though we’re in the midst of the darkest part of the year, the season’s concerts have local musicians’ spirits high and, like other things going around this time of year, that feeling is quite contagious.

Schola Cantorum of Santa Fe


El Niño—The Christ Child
7 pm Saturday, Dec. 11
Free
San Miguel Mission
401 Old Santa Fe Trail

Nol Nouvelet—The First Christmas
7 pm Sunday, Dec. 19
Free

Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe
417 Agua Fria St.
474-2815
schola-sf.org

Santa Fe Desert Chorale


Carols and Lullabies
8 pm Friday, Dec. 17
Monday and Tuesday, Dec. 20 and 21
$20-$55

Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi
213 Cathedral Place
988-1234
desertchorale.org

Santa Fe Women’s Ensemble


A Christmas Offering
7:30 pm Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 11 and 12
Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 17 and 18
$15-$35

Loretto Chapel
207 Old Santa Fe Trail
954-4922
sfwe.org

 

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