The winning request in Linda Mack Berven’s rolling City Market poll is the song “O Holy Night.”
“People stop me in the aisle,” Mack Berven said. “People literally stop me all year long. They ask if the Choral Society is going to sing ‘O Holy Night’ again with Gemma Kavanagh in our Traditional Family Christmas Concert. People love the music, and people love Gemma. So, yes, we’re performing ‘O Holy Night’ again this year.”
At 3 p.m. Dec. 2, the Durango Choral Society and its familial ensembles, plus the Durango Jazz Combo, will present a warm, feel-good holiday concert in the Community Concert Hall at Fort Lewis College.
“Everything from the sublime to the ridiculous,” Mack Berven said, “and a lot of what I call ‘Oh, yeah’ music that’s familiar.”
The concert will open with everyone, including audience members, singing a favorite Christmas hymn: “Joy to the World.” If that doesn’t wake up the neighborhood, the Choral Society will shake the walls with the FLC Percussion Ensemble in a rousing African chant: “Bethelehemu.”
Mack Berven slipped this tune into the program as a way of marking her 20th anniversary with the organization.
“We sang this piece years ago with John Pennington and his percussion students,” she said. “Everyone loved it. So now, John O’Neal and his students will be joyously drumming. It’s a perfect opening to the program.”
In 1999, Mack Berven, who was singing in the group and teaching at FLC, was invited to lead the Choral Society.
“Our first concert together was right around the corner,” she said.
Mack Berven plunged in as artistic director and conductor. Now, after many concerts, international choral trips, two national awards for programming, several world premieres and a general expansion of the organization, she continues to be a tireless, gifted and exuberant cultural leader in our community.
Now, her organization has four performing ensembles: The Durango Choral Society, Women’s Choir, Youth Chorus and Children’s Chorale. The December family concert has grown to be a showcase for each, and works will be presented in combination.
The Durango Children’s Chorale and Youth Chorus, headed by Amy Barrett and Robin Randolph, will follow the African chant and conclude with a bell set. The Women’s Choir and Youth Chorus will sing the beautiful, “Gesu Bambino,” a natural lead into Kavanagh’s by now historically memorable solo in Adolphe Adam’s arrangement of “O Holy Night.”
The Durango Jazz Combo will take the stage and perform Mel Torme’s “Christmas Song,” followed by even lighter fare – “Frosty the Snowman.”
Mack Berven’s promise of “the ridiculous” arrives when the Choral Society sing-snarls “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.”
Santa’s doppelganger (the always friendly and utterly reliable Steve Blaylock) will definitely make an appearance. Family photos may be taken with Santa before and after the concert for free. Bring your own camera.
To close the concert and mark her 20th year, Mack Berven has invited choral alumni to sing Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus.”
“You’ll still have to buy a ticket,” she said. “We’ve reached out in various ways, but if anyone learns about singing the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ here, email me: lindamack14@gmail. Shauna Blaylock can even send out the music electronically.”
Sounds like a once-in-a-lifetime choral experience.
Judith Reynolds is an arts journalist and member of the American Theatre Critics Association.