Classically Trained: Pacific Chorale provides musical joy for holidays

One thing I find so wonderful about the Pacific Chorale is that it's made up of our county's neighbors and our friends, maybe even our family. On select nights these varied folks, most of them volunteers, sing gloriously without the help of today's omnipresent Auto-Tune.

Wednesday was one of those nights.

On that chilly SoCal evening this remarkable ensemble, a contender for among the finest nationwide, had its annual Christmas-themed concert in its Costa Mesa home base, the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall.

"Tis the Season!" was a mix of the familiar, the reverent, the beautiful, the secular and the silly.

Combined with a contingent of the Pacific Symphony's brass and percussion sections — who stayed true to their usual fine form all evening long — the choristers filled the hall that their longtime conductor, John Alexander, says is made to glorify their voices.

Keeping in the holiday spirit, the stage was dotted with dozens of potted poinsettias and two Christmas trees lit with strands from top to bottom. Three wreaths hung high above in front of the house organ. Some distinctive lighting kept the organ's otherwise silver pipes looking golden most of the evening.

Things started dramatically.

With some of the women behind the orchestra, the men lined up on both sides of the stage and more women high up in the back of the house, all performed "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." It was an enveloping effect, with sound coming from multiple directions. To those of us on the orchestra-level floor, the women up high were distant voices to a remarkably pleasing effect.

Later on, the hall became close to musical heaven in the second rendition of "Ave Maria" with the harpist, combined with the perfected chorale, leaving me transfixed.

The second half ended with the appropriately triumphant finale from John Rutter's "Gloria," a piece that brought out the power the chorale can produce when called for.

Alexander, who last month celebrated his 40th-anniversary season as the chorale's artistic director, said Wednesday that this year was also the 40th year of the Christmastime concert. Furthermore, he said some in the audience have attended all 40 of them.

Those Pacific Chorale listener veterans have seen the once small, fledging group develop into a multimillion-dollar enterprise with a roster of some 200 — a remarkable transformation indeed.

After intermission, Alexander came back onstage with something new. Sporting an appropriately red vest, he also showed off his socks — one red, the other green — which brought out the biggest laughs of the evening.

A wonderful surprise for me was hearing, for the first time, the Southern California Children's Concert Chorus, a group of 45 children ages 11 to 18 from the larger Southern California Children's Chorus. That group rehearses weekly at Orange Coast College and has an impressive roster of 330 singers, ages 5 to 20, affiliated with it.

The professionalism of these youngsters, led by conductor Lori Loftus, was inspiring. Their performances of Agneta Sköld's "Gloria" and Clifton J. Noble Jr.'s arrangement of "The Sussex Carol" — the latter complete with handbells — were also stellar.

A bit of the silly came during the chorale's rendition of two holiday favorites, "The Twelve Days of Christmas" and "Jingle Bells." On the first, which was as fun an arrangement of any song I've ever heard, the men could be seen acting like those geese-a-laying (though there were more than six of them), the women were heard swooning like the swans-a-swimming might have, and five very golden rings popped up again and again.

For "Jingle Bells," Santa Claus himself was spotted handing out candy canes, which were tucked strategically in between his belt and his portly self.

All in all, "Tis the Season!" provided great joy for the time of year known for it. The Pacific Chorale showed all its artistic sides, from the subtle and supple to the colorful and triumphant.

BRADLEY ZINT is a copy editor for the Daily Pilot and a classically trained musician. Email him story ideas at

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