During the holidays or at any time of the year, there are few more festive and joyous combinations than voices and brass instruments, so it was a pleasure, indeed, to attend the December 12 concert given jointly by the Capital Area Chorale and the Triangle Brass Band. It’s a busy season, and there’s lots of competition, but the program drew a substantial crowd – I started to say “respectable,” but most holiday concert audiences fit that description! – to the sanctuary of Edenton Street United Methodist Church. Michael Votta, Jr., got things underway with an arrangement by Albert Loritz of the Overture to Handel’s Royal Fireworks Music , radiantly played by his exceptional TBB artists. The sonority often suggested a great pipe organ, and the low notes vibrated through the church. The playing, too, was as crisp and precise as a single keyboardist might have elicited on a really good day. Steven Bulla’s attractive three-movement Christmas Suite includes familiar tunes -“The Wassail Song,” Praetorius’ exquisite “Lo! How a Rose e’r Blooming,” jazzily introduced, and a concluding medley of favorites served as an admirable introduction to the rest of the holiday program. William J. Weisser’s Capital Area Chorale has been laid low by the flu bug, but 26 of its singers rose to the occasion, delivering a heartwarming rendition of Z. Randall Stroope’s pastiche of Copland and old American songs, done up with adapted words as “An American Christmas.” It was not too disconcerting to hear bits of The Tender Land and other melodies woven into the suite.

The band returned for two short selections, including a new arrangement by UNC student (and former Triangle Youth Brass Band) J.C. Peterson that effectively commingles “The Carol of the Bells” with “God Rest ye Merry Gentlemen.” A version of “The Christmas Song,” arranged by Philip Sparke, and featuring the solo cornet of Stephen Lytle, was every bit as warm as Mel Torme’s recording.

The CAC next turned its attention to John Leavitt’s Hodie , another cobbling-together of mostly (but not entirely) well-known carols and other Christmas songs -“Personent Hodie,” “Cantate!,” “Ding Dong Merrily on High,” “O Magnum Mysterium,” and a concluding “Hodie.” The last two were exceptionally beautiful, and beautifully sung, too. The CAC’s soloists, here and earlier, included Kindria Blake, Dena Walker, Jim Lee, Pauline Cornelius, Polly Laubinger, and Jenny Wayne.

The grand finale at last brought both groups together, with light organ reinforcement, provided by CAC accompanist Michael J. Clinkscales, heard earlier in the CAC’s “solo” selections. (His scales didn’t clink in the least.) The concluding group, titled “Christmas Voices & Brass,” included still more holiday favorites but in new, impressive “wrappings” – among the most notable were an elaborately-set “With Merry Heart” and a very unusual, highly distinctive version of “Away in a Manger.” Weisser conducted this, and Votta returned to lead the obligatory sing-along, this time involving “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.” He prefaced this portion of the show by reading from John Wesley’s “Directions for Singing,” reprinted in the United Methodist Hymnal from Select Hymns (1761). Wesley’s admonitions include “sing spiritually,” which most folks managed to do.

*Edited 12/16/03.