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Voices raised to the heavens at cathedral

With musical offerings both expansive and intimate, the 27th annual Cathedral Concert at Victoria's St. Fidelis Catholic Church epitomized the joys of Christmas.

From its opening moments with Brad and Renetta Dawson performing the pastoral brass duet "What Child is This," to the last echo of the Fort Hays Singers' "Carol of the Bells," the program showcased distinctly different arrangements and vocal styles. As a matter of fact, the concert's instrumental interludes alone would have made an astounding concert.

A gift to the community, "The Joys of Christmas" was performed by the choirs of Fort Hays State University, under the direction of Terry Crull, with accompanist Pam McGowne and the Hays High School Chamber Singers, conducted by Johnny Matlock. Joining the ensembles were Ivalah Allen, Joseph Perniciaro, the Dawsons, Tom Meagher, Hilary Shepard and the flute ensemble, Lane Weaver and the brass choir and the FHSU brass quintet. Special guests Abilene Middle School Choir, directed by Katie Steinert Pretz. performed during the afternoon concert, with Crossroads performing during the evening concert.

Showcasing a variety of vocal talents, from the developing voices of middle school students to the seasoned voices of the Smoky Hill Chorale, the audience was treated to some very satisfying arrangements.

The Jack Grotenhuis' arrangement of "What Child is This," sung by the Fort Hays Singers with Stephanie Demuth on flute, began with voices so perfectly blended they seemed to be a solitary voice. When the harmonies began to take shape throughout the familiar tune it created an almost magical musical experience.

Alexandra Hutchinson's solos enhanced the Fort Hays Singers' performances with a golden quality that was equally at home with ancient ethereal melody lines as with gospel syncopation.

Fully understanding the difficulties involved in moving a piano into the sanctuary of the great cathedral, I would be remiss if I didn't say I felt somewhat cheated by hearing the joyous Christmas music accompanied by keyboard instead of a real piano. The vibrance of the voices and instruments simply couldn't be matched by a digital instrument, despite the great talent of the pianists.

The Hays High School Chamber Singers mastered some intricate selections, including "In Splendoribus Sanctorum" with Dan Spears on trumpet. Spears' complex solo performance resonated above the sustained phrasing of the singers, as they displayed vocal maturity beyond their years.

The fresh young voices of the Abilene Middle School Choir rounded out Sunday's performance. Their rendition of Deo Dicamus Gratias was the highlight of their selections, with light harmonies and dynamics well-suited to their voices.

Marveling at the granite pillars and aesthetic engineering of the cathedral, I was at once struck by the thought that the concert, a gift from all the fine musicians involved, at its heart was made possible by the contributions of hard-working German settlers who constructed the native limestone cathedral more than 100 years ago.

I hope the echos of the joyous music was not entirely out of the realm of their hearing.

Dawne Leiker is a reporter at The Hays Daily News.