MADISON -- From beginning to end, the Madison Diocesan Choir’s free Christmas concert this Sunday, Dec. 20, at the Bishop O’Connor Catholic Pastoral Center is all about angels and their joyful message sung from the heavens to shepherd boys and all below on the earth.
||The Madison Diocesan Choir directed by Dr. Patrick Gorman, right, will present its annual Festive of Lessons and Carols. (Ken Halfmann photo)
Dr. Patrick Gorman, Diocesan Choir director, chose an angelic theme for the choir’s 2009 Festival of Lessons and Carols. The concert begins with the hymn, “Angels from the Realms of Glory,” and it ends with, “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”
But more so than previous holiday concerts, this celebration of the Christ child’s birth in Scripture readings and song is also very much a family affair.
Highlighting ‘family’ talents
In the past, Gorman and the choir have had special guests. In 2008, soprano Jamie-Rose Guarrine, a rising opera star, and her husband, cellist Karl Knapp, were guest performers. Last year, Mary Ann Harr, principal harpist for the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra, was featured performer.
But now it is the choir’s time to shine. Gorman is featuring the special talents of several choir members: Laura Zimmerman of Poynette, as soloist, and flute players Molly Gould of Middleton and Lou Ann Wagner of Cross Plains in a duet. The exceptional talents of accompanist Glenn Schuster will be very much evident as well.
What’s more, Gorman’s selections include a composition, “Shepherds’ Song,” written by his older brother, Tom, an award-winning composer of choral music, folk songs, and music for children’s theater. Tom’s influence at an early age led Gorman to pursue a career in music.
Festival of Lessons and Carols
Presented by Madison Diocesan Choir
Sunday, Dec. 20, 4 p.m.
Bishop O’Connor Center Chapel, 702 S. High Point Rd., Madison (wheelchair accessible)
No charge. Donations of nonperishable food for Catholic Multicultural Center and donations to support the choir’s musical ministry are welcome.
Bishop Robert C. Morlino will preside over the festival of Scripture readings and carols. The lessons begin with Adam’s temptation and fall and conclude with the birth of Christ. Between readings, the choir will perform and Gorman will invite all present to join in singing a number of carols.
“It certainly is going to be one of the better performances,” Gorman said. “It will be a nice experience to come and to feel like, ‘Boy, I’m really getting ready for Christmas now,’ with these carols so beautifully sung and played on the organ. And there will be a lot of opportunities for the congregation to participate.”
Talented choir members
Commenting on the theme, Gorman said, “Angels are messengers of God. They communicate to humans, and so this message of peace is what I’m hoping we convey.”
Gould and Wagner perform early in the concert. Gorman chose the Norwegian carol, “O Yule Full of Gladness,” with them in mind. In the arrangement by Carolyn Jennings, they begin with a flute duet and accompany the choir throughout.
“Molly and Lou Ann were a nice surprise,” Gorman said. “I knew that Lou Ann played the flute. I didn’t know that Molly did. I was talking to them last summer, and they mentioned that they might be willing to perform. So I immediately jumped at the chance. When I first heard them play, they just sounded so nice. I’m so happy that we have this talent in the group.”
Zimmerman will sing the solo in “O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion” from Handel’s Messiah. “Laura is another one who always has such a pleasant full voice, very clear, and she interprets music very well,” Gorman said. “So it will be nice to give her a chance to step forward a little bit.”
‘One of the finest organists’
While Schuster will accompany the choir and congregation throughout the concert, Gorman said his gifts as a musician will be most apparent in performing Handel’s composition and Bach’s “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.”
“He certainly has his work cut out for him on ‘O thou that tellest good tidings to Zion’,” Gorman said. “That’s a very difficult piece to play and he plays it really well. But there is also the very lovely Bach piece, which we’re going to sing. It’s such a lovely and familiar organ part. And again, he just plays it perfectly.”
By definition, an accompanist has a supporting role. But according to Gorman, Schuster is central to the choir’s successful performances. “Glenn is certainly one of the finest organists in the diocese, and especially his improvisational music is so good that he just adds so much to this,” Gorman said. “And it’s so easy to take him for granted, but he’s an exceptionally important part of the choir.”
Gorman said the “Shepherds’ Song” is part of a larger work that his brother, Tom, wrote with friend and lyricist Kenneth Phillips.
“This is just one of my favorite little melodies,” he said. “He’s an excellent folk musician and has a number of recordings available. But he also has spent a lot of time as a church musician, and especially when he was younger, he wrote a great deal of music for the church. I’ve never done any of his music. So I’m looking forward to this.”
Of four children in the William and Catherine Gorman family, only Tom and Pat became musicians. For Tom, music is an avocation. He works as an administrator at Bowling Green State University. The parents reside in Elyria, Ohio.
“Tom’s probably the reason I got into music,” Gorman said. “You always look up to the big bother, and he was always so good at everything, singing, playing the guitar. He is a real virtuoso on guitar. My brother Bob and I had a room together and his was next to ours. I can still remember falling asleep at night hearing him play the guitar.”
“Shepherds’ Song” also has a solo part, and here again, a choir member’s talents are featured, soprano Lee Huffer of Madison.
Gorman will direct the choir in a repeat performance on Saturday, Jan. 2, at St. John the Evangelist Cathedral, 812 N. Jackson St. in Milwaukee. The free performance will begin at 4:45 p.m. and conclude prior to the 5:15 p.m. Mass on the Vigil of the Epiphany. The cathedral is wheelchair accessible.