In a metro area with a tradition of extraordinary Christmas concerts such as the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra’s and the joint Morehouse/Spelman College Glee Club celebration, one distinctive performance never fails to reward those who come.
The Atlanta Boy Choir’s annual concert in the Abbey Church of the Monastery of the Holy Spirit, held this past Saturday, is a 30-year tradition many count on to help them prepare for the coming of Christmas. This year’s concert was no exception and did not disappoint.
Performed in a setting that is both festive and sacred, the words of the hymns and carols sung there seem more wondrous and resonate in a way far deeper than would be possible in a secular concert hall. The voices filled the soaring arches of the Monastery’s intimate chapel with a joyous sound, a sound as it was meant to be heard, anticipating the birth of the Savior. The Abbey Church is also a place where the choir can be seen and heard up close, an advantage to the families that came with children.
This year the concert was a homecoming of sorts as the red-robed boy choir was directed by Fletcher Wolfe, who returned to the role after coming out of retirement, and was joined by a men’s choir made up of some of its alumni. The two choirs alternated pieces and then sang together on Saturday evening. The classical program included the “Magnificat” of Pergolesi and Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols” along with traditional carols, spirituals and Latin hymns. The men’s choir voices added a new powerful sound to the program, traditionally defined by the ethereal voices of the boy choir.
The dulcet tones and crisp notes of the harp, flute, oboe, violin, cello, piano and harpsichord accompanied the choir voices to great effect and moved the audience with their own instrumental voices. The performance invited the audience to listen as the beautiful voices rang out in an otherwise still, quiet place.
Soon it even seemed to sound like a cold winter’s night outside, but with a warmth inside as people gathered to listen and sing of God’s kindness to mankind.
Part of the uniqueness of the evening, which draws many people back year after year, is the chance to step away from all that is worldly. The temporary respite from modern noise, lights, and harshness opens one more quickly to the spiritual and musical elements. From the darkness of the woods and grounds outside, to the reception afterward and mingling with the choir and the monks, one is transported to a more reflective and sacred space within and without. How blessed the Christmas season seems once again, how fresh a promise to all people.
The concert was even more worthwhile knowing it benefited the Monastery’s food bank outreach to those in need.
The night was capped at the reception by a chat with one of the very youngest boys, who took part in only one piece. I congratulated him when I saw him afterward, standing with his family and older brother, also in the choir. I asked him if it was his first performance. He literally beamed. “It was my first solo,” he said, with a smile that would have melted the heart of the Grinch.