The Hickory Choral Society welcomed in the holiday season with their annual Christmas concert weekend and much fanfare. The program featured music from the classical cannon, traditional favorites, and new works. These are big doings in Hickory, folks. One of the delightful things about this town is how seriously they take their music, and the local arts organizations deserve to be taken seriously, for what that’s worth, too!

The Hickory Choral Society is in its 37th season. A community organization with over 115 volunteer singers, the group is conducted by former high school choral director J. Don Coleman. They are augmented by an orchestra, a small army of gracious ushers and volunteers, and enthusiastic and vibrant community support. It’s refreshing and exciting to go to a concert at which the anticipation in the audience rivals that of the performers.

“Personent Hodie,” arranged by Lara Hoggard (a mentor of the director), served as the processional – it is the traditional Christmas opener for the choral society. Hearing choral singing in “surround sound” is always exciting, but this arrangement’s brilliant brass fanfare made it even more so. The following piece, Kevin Memley‘s arrangement of “Ave Maria,” could not have been more different. The ethereal gentleness of the work was well suited for this ensemble.

The HCS achieved a remarkable level of even blend, and the conscientious attention to musical detail was evident throughout the program. Unfortunately, the intense focus on uniformity of sound denied the audience the level of vocal power that should be expected from a chorus of this size. The venue, the sanctuary of the visually stunning Corinth Reformed Church, was surprisingly acoustically unforgiving. The dryness of the room showcased the rhythmic and diction details but also contributed to significant balance issues, as the chorus’ understated tone did not receive any help from the room in carrying the sound. Balance with the accompanying 38 piece orchestra – especially the percussion section, placed higher up near the altar, as they were – continued to be problematic throughout the concert.

The orchestra featured what was probably the best woodwind section this reviewer has heard in Hickory. The section really sparkled in Ola Gjeilo‘s setting of the Gloria and on a beautiful arrangement of “The First Noel” by Dan Forrest. Gustav Holst’s “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silent” featured the ethereal solo voices of Kristy Price, soprano, and Danny Gouge, baritone. The piece played to the strengths of both the orchestra and the choir and received a truly sensitive reading.

The programming for this concert was a tasteful blend of classical, traditional, and newer works. Pieces such as the “South African Gloria” by William B. Roberts and Stacey Gibbs‘ arrangement of “Go, Tell It on the Mountain” lent cultural variety, while warhorses by John Rutter, Felix Mendelssohn, and Gustav Holst provided depth. Some pieces were better suited for this ensemble than others, but the inclusion of a variety of musical traditions was praiseworthy.

These concerts continue through Sunday, providing a wonderful way to hang your musical stockings in preparation for this Christmas season. See the sidebar for details.

The season also promises the Mozart Requiem for Hickory Choral Society’s spring concert.

See our calendar to keep up with current musical offerings.