Dallas — On Thursday the Turtle Creek Chorale presented the first in their series of holiday concerts at Dallas City Performance Hall, called Home, and it is a Santa’s bag filled to the brim with gifts of a wide range of seasonal music, both sacred and secular. It is all tied together with the ribbons of dance, theater, art and comedy. No matter what your religious beliefs may or may not be, only the grumpiest Grinch or crankiest Krampus could fail to be uplifted by the evening’s festivities.
As befits a choral organization, the music was paramount and rarely interrupted. The chorus, under the artistic direction of Sean Baugh, sounded terrific anchored by a resonant and solid bass section. Intonation was excellent and diction was clear. The selections ranged from familiar Christmas carols, such as “Joy to the World” and “O Come All Ye Faithful” (in fresh arrangements), to the inspirational such as “Instrument of Peace” as sung by the Chamber Choir. There was also the usual inclusion of the clever and comical, such as “Chanukah in Santa Monica” and “Themes on Fa La La,” which kept veering off into Beethoven.
A series of skits about obnoxious relatives found in almost every home fell a little flat. However, a wordless drama, which unfolds throughout the concert on one side of the stage without calling undue attention to itself, was innovative and emotionally moving. The pantomime involved a lonely young man moving into a new apartment, unpacking his few belongings and small box of mementos. He appears to be laden with melancholia. (We have all been there.) However—spoiler alert!—things appear to work out for him in the end, if not exactly like an incurable romantic might hope they would. Visual arts are also represented with a line-drawing animation that is created right in front of the audience an a large singer-held fabric screen.
Dallas’ favorite diva Denise Lee joins in with some soul-stirring vocals. She possesses a gorgeous voice that she handles with technical expertise. Her vocal delivery ranged from exciting big moments to her even more impressive ability to float beautifully soft spinning sounds. By contrast, the exhilarating African drum and dance ensemble, Bandan Koro, brought driving rhythms to the midwinter celebrations.
The Soundbytes dancers, the a cappella ensemble Camerata, and Chamber Chorus—three sub-groups of the chorale—also gave excellent performances. A TCC specialty, one verse of "Silent Night" performed in absolute silence with American Sign Language, was both moving and sobering, as those of us with hearing are reminded of our blessings.
Scott Ayres was superb at the piano, improvising between the selections to keep the music flowing. The professional orchestra played with skill and expertise. Concertmaster Ordabek Duissen, a member of the Fort Worth Symphony, offered some impressive solo violin passages. Sean Baugh conducted with spirit and precision, his gestures both economical and meaningful.
Additional thoughts: Holiday concerts abound this time of year among the avalanche of Nutcracker and Christmas Carol productions. Some call their offering a Christmas concert, a title that promises (and usually delivers) a purely Christian evening. On the other hand some, like TCC, advertise a “Holiday Concert,” making an effort to include the other holidays that occur in December. Some organizations avoid the question by presenting a masterpiece, Handel’s Messiah, but that is really an Easter piece. One unusual event this December was The Dallas Opera’s world premiere opera by Mark Adamo, Becoming Santa Claus. It proffered a new fable about the origins of the now completely secular saint.
Of course, no concert could possibly cover all of the traditions. If you are interested, here is a list of some other than Christian December holidays: Ramadan, Eid'ul-Adha and Eid al-Fitr (Muslim); Chanukah (Jewish); Kwanzaa (African-American); Omisoka (Japanese); and the ancient Pagan celebrations of the Winter Solstice, Yule, and Saturnalia.
The Christian holidays are just as varied. The most well known in America are Advent, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. But some others are: Saint Nicholas Day, Fiesta of Our Lady of Guadalupe, St. Lucia Day, Three Kings Day, and Epiphany.
All of these ruminations, including the stand-off between the war-on-Christmas crowd and those that feel inundated by it, came to mind as the Turtle Creek Chorale’s holiday concert unfolded. The TCC truly makes an effort to present a wide-ranging holiday celebration.
It is understandable that the LGBT community, until very recently criminalized and still marginalized in many ways, would strive for inclusivity.
Home is a welcoming concert.