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Let's say you're of a certain age and you have become somewhat jaded about Christmas music, considering much of it to be cliché-ridden. Then you should have spent a stimulating Sunday evening in the graceful sanctuary of St. Michael's Episcopal Church. There the Oakwood Waits delivered "A Concert of Songs and Carols for the Holiday Season." These sixteen a cappella singers brought forth some thirty seasonal offerings, the greater number of which fell well outside the hackneyed category.
What is an Oakwood Wait? Oakwood denotes that historic and picturesque old section of Raleigh where the singers, now decked out in authentic Dickens-era apparel, had their genesis in 1984. Funk & Wagnalls advises that a wait is "…a member of a musical band organized to play and sing in the streets at night or dawn, especially at Christmastime."
They made their entrance with the medieval "All and Some," the stately old piece intoning "…Nowell sing we, both all and some." They lauded a "Winter Wonderland" and took a Leroy Anderson "Sleigh Ride," with Chorus Master Michael J. Glasgow's arrangement managing to make it sound downright instrumental.
From a purely musical standpoint, one might have chosen the sublime "Huron Carol" (T'was In the Moon of Wintertime). The singers' artistry and preparation were on fine display with these haunting harmonies – "…Jesus your King is born." They negotiated the "Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy" without the usual whimsical text but with fa la la's.
A major work of solemn beauty was "Welcome the King," composed and directed by Glasgow. Lending enchantment here was the supporting viola of (soprano Waits-member) Katie Hennenlotter. David Jefferson Sorrells brought a flawless baritone solo turn to "Still, Still, Still." Also decidedly within the quality category was the Gaelic "Taladh Chriosda" (The Christ Child's Lullaby). This lullaby could scarcely have been more appealing with its repeated "alleluia, alleluia." The resonant solo work of alto Evelyn McCauley was indispensable to the success of the work.
Two exquisite songs about a Little Town featured the sopranos to high advantage: "How Far Is It to Bethlehem?" and "The Little Road to Bethlehem" (Shall we find a stable room lit by a star?). A surprising and welcome offering was the early American hymn, "Exultation," often known as "Come Away to the Skies." And there was the "most highly favored lady" from the "Carol of the Annunciation."
The program notes pointed out that "Once again The Oakwood Waits are happy to present their annual concert to benefit Hospice of Wake County, which has been celebrating life since 1979." Their selfless support of this organization was especially poignant this time around. During the past year, one of their late and beloved former members was served by this Hospice. The enthusiastic audience apparently responded generously. Who said the Christmas spirit was extinct?