Annual Cathedral Concert kindles Christmas joy

Despite Sunday's weather, hundreds of people gathered eagerly in Victoria's St. Fidelis Catholic Church, the Cathedral of the Plains, for the afternoon performance of the most beloved musical event of the year.

This year's concert, produced and directed by Terry Crull, Fort Hays State University's director of choirs, with faculty soloists and instrumental ensembles, plus guest ensembles from Hays Middle School and Hays High School, was, in my opinion, a triumph.

From start to finish, angelic music filled the air. And the music, except for a few traditional favorites for congregational singing, was invariably fresh and new.

The Smoky Hill Chorale performed a program featuring modern settings of hymns, carols and liturgical music. Despite a preponderance of women's voices, the chorale sounded rich and balanced throughout, largely due to arrangements in which women's and men's voices alternated. Oboist Kay Werth and other FHSU instrumentalists followed with a fine rendition of "Gabriel's Oboe," a modern piece by Ennio Morricone.

Jalynn Nolte conducted the Hays Middle School Honor Choir in music beginning and ending with descriptions of the glory of peace on Earth, with a good, fast "Run to the Manger" by Victor C. Johnson in between. The Fort Hays Singers, FHSU's elite choral ensemble, then joined them in a modern setting of "Ave Maris Stella," "Hail, Star of the Sea," by Mark Thomas.

After this, the Fort Hays Singers superbly performed innovative arrangements of traditional music, most notably "Noel of the Bressan Waits." (I think Bressan Waits are municipal musicians of the French town of Bresse.) "Come, O Come, Emmanuel," arranged by Robert M. Olson, was perhaps too innovative -- it bore no relationship to the 13th-century chant I could hear.

Ivalah Allen, soprano; Hilary Shepard, flute; and Pam McGowne, piano accompaniment, followed the Singers in style with a radiant performance of Max Reger's "Virgin's Slumber Song."

The Hays High School Chamber Singers, conducted by Johnny Matlock, excelled in all selections, but brought down the house with their concluding number, "The Sleigh," by Richard Kountz, which depicted the fun of bouncing along on a sleigh.

The FHSU Concert Choir concluded the concert with Dale Grotenhuis's "Take Joy Home," which they performed while standing in the aisles on either side of the nave. This, like everything else in the concert, took full advantage of the marvelous acoustics of St. Fidelis, which, along with its striking combination of Romanesque and Baroque styles, never fail to enthrall the congregation.

Ruth Firestone is a supporter of the arts and frequent contributor to The Hays Daily News.