This weekend will be a highlight of your holiday season if you attend the 18th annual Christmas Festival Concert at Woodbury Lutheran Church.
Performances are scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, and 4 p.m. on Sunday. Tickets for general seating are available at the church office or at the door.
I try not to miss this presentation of joy filled music and a live nativity that each year stirs my Christmas spirit.
Inspired by the tradition of college choirs, Lutheran colleges(*) in particular, Music Director Mark Shepperd assembles an incredible repertoire of music performed by a 36-piece orchestra, a 65-voice chorale, a 17-voice ensemble and a contemporary praise band. There’s also a hand bell choir and terrific solo performances sprinkled throughout.
Since early October, these musicians have been rehearsing what Shepperd’s been preparing for them since June. He carefully selects music to fill out a particular concert format that is basically unchanged from what he initiated while working for North Heights Lutheran in the late 1970s.
Shepperd has played piano since age 8, studied organ in high school, sang in choirs and majored in music at Augsburg College. He’s been creating, playing and conducting music in church settings ever since.
He says even after many years he still loves producing the WLC Christmas Festival Concert for our community that often expresses great appreciation for the event.
For a suggested donation of $8, listeners are immersed in an amazing musical experience weaved together by a narration of the Christmas story. I’m excited to hear all three live performances as I’m privileged to serve as this year’s narrator.
But all concert goers are more than spectators of this show. At times the audience is invited to join voices with the performers to sing some of everyone’s favorite Christmas carols.
Traditional carols, classical and contemporary music are selected to complement segments of the Christmas story. Included are selections by composers Handel and Mendelssohn as well as two pieces written by Shepperd himself.
Shepperd typically writes at least one piece for each year’s concert. One of his original carols featured in this weekend’s program is an award winner from last year’s annual Christmas Carol Competition sponsored by VocalEssence and the American Composers Forum. His winning piece was performed as part of the 2010 VocalEssence Welcome Christmas concert. That concert was recorded and is scheduled to be broadcast on American Public Media at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 14, and on Christmas Day at 5 p.m.
Shepperd says part of what he loves about WLC’s annual Christmas concert is the thrill of working with an orchestra as well as the particular treat of hearing his own original music performed. He points out that not all composers get that opportunity.
And this weekend, another of Shepperd’s original pieces will make its world premiere debut as the opening selection for this year’s Christmas Festival Concert!
If you’ve attended this event before, you already know how special it is. If you haven’t, I encourage you to come and hear some of what you’ve been missing. It will be Christmas music to your ears.
(*)An earlier version of this story said Luther College.