With new arrangements of beloved Christmas carols, the Merced College Chorale rings in the holiday season with a "Classics and Carols" concert this weekend.
"Classics and Carols is a concert dedicated to Christmas favorites as well as medleys of carols and some holiday-oriented pieces that you may not be familiar with, but you'll love all the same," soprano Michelle Varni said.
"I'd like to think of it as a cultural gathering, a melding of familiar and foreign that we can find a common bond within. It's the perfect way to kick off the festivities this holiday season," Varni said.
Music for the evening includes traditional carols such as "We Three Kings" in a Dave Brubeck-style swing and "Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" but also classical choral works such as Corelli's "O Magnum Mysterium."
Accompaniment is provided by chorale accompanist Patrice Stribling Nelson with assistance in the four-hand arrangements by Molly Rowan and a 12-piece string ensemble.
Attendees are advised to arrive early as there are no reserved seats and concerts are close to sell-outs for each performance.
"It is the celebration of tradition that we wish to share with you this weekend," conductor Curtis Nelson said. "For the past 17 weeks we've been immersing ourselves in musical moments of holly, angels, wise men, snow and a generous share of glorias.
"The members of the chorale, the instrumentalists and I would like to escort you, by way of harmonious triggers, to memories of holidays past, when caroling was commonplace and everyone knew all the words," Nelson said. "Though the arrangements may be new, the heart of the arrangements are as predictable and comfortable as ever."
Varni has embraced the challenge of learning new ways to sing old songs.
"We don't sing what everyone's comfortable with," she said. "For example, the versions of 'Let It Snow!' and 'We Three Kings' that we perform in the show have a more jazzy feel to them.
"It's a challenge for us as singers to escape from what we're used to singing, but we really get into the feel of the pieces, and it becomes a lively time of caroling."
Bass Zhong Vang has enjoyed the diversity of performers and performances in "Classics and Carols," and hopes that audience members will like it too.
"I think people should attend this concert because it is full of great Christmas music that will spark various emotions and spread the holiday spirit," Vang said.
"This show is unique because the chorale is full of various people with different personalities and backgrounds, but with the same love to sing and share the joy of Christmas music," Vang said.
Nelson is entering his 16th year as conductor of the Merced College Chorale and still finding ways to make the annual Christmas concert unique and inspiring.
"In this day of never-ending flow of innovation and celebration of all things new, there is a need to find the balance in a celebration of tradition," he said.
"The latest hit song or newest clothing style may find our temporary fascination for being fresh and different, but the important substance of our culture is built upon that which has lasted, that which helps us recall memories and emotions untapped by transient seasonal fads," Nelson said.
"It is our hope that the words, the notes and our presentation of them will bring a smile to the audience's faces and warmth to their hearts that will be their companions through the holiday season."
Classics and Carols
WHEN: Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m.; Sunday at 3 p.m.
WHERE: Merced College
TICKETS: $8 in advance, $10 at the door. Tickets can be bought at Gottschalk's Music, Passadori's, Peraino's Jewelry and Gift Emporium, and at the Merced College Bookstore. They also are available at the door at 6:30 each evening.
INFO: (209) 384-6284 or www.facebook.com/