Christmas seems to be full of carols about deep snow and reindeer. But how about rainy mountains and deserts? That’s what we have here in the American West, and that’s what the Northwest Repertory Singers will be caroling about — “Best of the West” — in its annual Christmas concerts this weekend at Mason United Methodist Church.
“The concert focuses on traditions,” explains choir director Paul Schultz. “I grew up in Michigan in a Germanic-Lutheran environment, and I was reminiscing about that. But traveling through the Southwest and New Mexico, you see all the different ways people celebrate. The West is such a unique part of the country.”
And so, rather than Christmas music about snow in New England, the choir’s Christmas concert ranges from Spanish carols to a Northwest musical icon.
Conrad Susa’s “Carols and Lullabies” is the program’s centerpiece. Written as a contemporary follow-on to Benjamin Britten’s “A Ceremony of Carols,” it’s a collection of Spanish Christmas carols re-arranged with guitar, marimba and harp, forming a narrative redolent of the Southwest’s joyful, Hispanic-influenced Christmas traditions.
The program then heads north, to our own Christmas of rain and misty mountains.
“The Pacific Northwest is a little more difficult to put a finger on,” says Schultz, “but I did it through … local composers.”
Those composers include Gig Harbor’s Edmund Hughes, whose version of the 15th-century English “Coventry Carol” uses handbells, chimes and aleatoric (improvised) sections; the choir’s own Kyle Haugen with a brand-new modal arrangement of “What Cheer” that hints at Britten; and a new piece by Seattle Swedish choir member Anders Edenroth, who writes a carol that puts a new spin on old words to make a plaintive wish for our planet’s future as a Christmas present.
The program ends with one of the Northwest’s best-known Christmas songs: “Christmas in the Northwest,” originally written by Brenda Kutz White 30 years ago. Now a holiday staple, it also is the title of an annual CD that supports Seattle Children’s Hospital in giving medical care to all children regardless of family income. Schultz, hearing the song, contacted Kutz White to ask if the choir could make a choral arrangement, and the singer was not only “delighted” but offered to sing at the concert as a guest artist.
“Best of the West” Christmas
Who: Northwest Repertory Singers with Brenda Kutz White and other artists.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday (pre-concert lecture one hour prior).
Where: Mason United Methodist Church, 2710 N. Madison St., Tacoma.
Tickets: $20 adults; $17 senior, student/free ages 12 and younger.