There is something quite magical about the sound of a well-trained boychoir. The purity, innocence, and charm of the voices, blended in harmonies that gel in a special way, create a tingle in the ear and a unique experience, especially at this time of year. The Raleigh Boychoir, under the direction of Thomas E. Sibley, presented the 36th Annual Carols of Christmas program to a full sanctuary at Edenton Street United Methodist Church on Tuesday night, December 20. Though they were a little ragged around the edges with some uncertain entrances and some flat notes here and there, the magic was abundant enough to give pleasure to parents, friends, and guests alike.
Taking their cue from the world-famous Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols from King's College, Cambridge, the program began with one solo voice singing the first verse of H.J. Gauntlett's Christmas hymn "Once in Royal David's City." Chorister Cory Arnold was given the awesome honor of the solo verse on this occasion. The rest of the boys joined in as they processed from the rear of the sanctuary – an impressive sight in their black robes with red sashes and pleated white collars!
They sang the ancient English carol "Adam Lay Y'bounden," arranged by Barry Rose, and "Come, Watch with us this Christmas Night," by Malcomb Archer, before presenting the premiere performance of Peter Paul Olejar's "Our God will Come and will not Tarry." Andrew Way and Travis Whaley did a very nice job in the duet, and the choir sounded about as fine as a boychoir can sound in this anthem, showing off the skills and qualities of the choir, the accompanist, and the Raleigh-based composer as well. Kevin Kerstetter, the organist, provided quality and musically-knowledgeable support for the choir throughout the program.
Herbert Sumsion's masterpiece, "Magnificat," another piece written for boychoir voices, showed the Raleigh Boychoir to good advantage. One could have been transported to an English Cathedral by this well-done selection
The centerpiece and clear star of the evening was Benjamin Britten's exquisite A Ceremony of Carols. The Millennium Singers of the choir were joined by talented and generous local harpist Anita Burroughs-Price. A Ceremony of Carols is based on medieval English poetry and music. First performed at Norwich on December 5, 1942, it became an immediate classic and is one of Britten's most popular compositions. The audience liked it so much they wanted to applaud each section, which somewhat interrupted the flow of the piece and seemed to throw off the boys' concentration once or twice, but it was beautiful overall and a delight to hear. Burroughs-Price added just the right rhapsodic element. This piece is so popular that adult choirs sometimes program it, but it is never as special as when done by the treble boys' voices for which it was written.
Burroughs-Price accompanied the boys in John Rutter's lovely "Angels Carol" and in "Jesus Christ the Apple Tree" by Andrew Carter. The combination of the boychoir voices with the harp was a treat to be savored. The program concluded with some familiar carols and the obligatory "fun" piece, "Rockin' in Bethlehem." Karthik Sundaram was the soloist in "Bring a Torch, Jeannette Isabella" and Sam Homiller and Andrew Way sang solos in Alice Parker's arrangement of "A Garland of Carols."
After Adolphe Adam's "O Holy Night" and the recessional carol, "Silent Night," we went out into the very chilly evening in downtown Raleigh taking some of the warmth and radiance of this concert with us as a gift.