As November begins I realized that there are some tips for Christmas concerts that have helped us have a great celebration of music and Jesus' birth in a cross-cultural church.
poster by Carrie Jones
Start with a congregational carol
This year we will begin our adult concert with a congregational carol to get everybody singing and to fill the room with excitement and joy. I love the carol "How Great My Joy" that has the antiphonal chorus between choir and congregation. Another great opening song is "Jesus, What a Wonderful Child" that is published by Hope Publishing in SATB or SAB arrangements. It has been recorded by Mississippi Mass Choir, Dottie Peoples, Mariah Carey, and even Gladys Knight. Listen to their renditions for tempo; tempo is very important in gospel music, and the Hope Publishing demo is too fast!
Add some Christmas themed gospel choir tunes
After an invocation and welcome, we'll rip into Norman Hutchins' "He Has Come" from his album "Emmanuel" on JDI Records and available at Amazon MP3. There are several great gospel Christmas jams on that album including the title cut and "Jesus Born on This Day." All three of these tunes are familiar to fans of gospel music and will start you off right. This entire album is available in print from www.ntimemusic.com. I suggest that you get several of the song books and teach the songs by ear to the choir.
After "He Has Come" we'll feature a challenging arrangement of "What Child is This" from the collection "Great Joy" by Broadway Inspirational Voices. Some of the best talent in New York sing with this all star gospel choir, and the songbook has the arrangements perfectly rendered with the bass part added. If you haven't heard the album, check it out on Spotify and you will hear some of the best Christmas gospel I have ever heard. Both the CD and songbook are at www.ntimemusic.com also, or you can get it from BIV website. We try to do one or two of these each year, since they are pretty difficult and offer our choir a challenge.
Use special ensembles for women or men
One thing we like to do at NCF-Glenwood is include a song by our women and a song by the men. "Rejoice" by Richard Smallwood is a great tune for a women's chorus, from Smallwood's songbook/album "Rejoice" available on Amazon.com.
This year we're having our women sing "You Brought the Sunshine" by the Clark Sisters, a well-known black gospel women's group. Our men sang Wayne Watson's "Child of Bethlehem" two years ago (arr Marty Parks/Lillenas Pub), "This Christmas" by Donny Hathaway last year (donnyhathawayblogspot.com), and this year we're looking at the Temptations' arrangement of "Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer"! Since a Christmas concert is not a worship service at our church, we like to mix in soul pop classics.
Invite instrumental participation
We have an eclectic group of instrumentalists at our church, and I like to include them, especially string players on 1 or 2 of the pieces. The difficulty here is that with 3 violinists, 1 horn, 2 saxes, 3 trumpets, 1 clarinet, and 1 double bass, you almost have to do custom arrangements!
At NCF-Chattanooga we now have two campuses, and we share musical resources between the two congregations throughout the year. The program I am describing is focused on the Glenwood campus, and East Lake has a different emphasis. Mostly I wanted to share the resources that are out there for a fresh, soulful Christmas program. You can also find several original Christmas anthems on the CD "I'll Be More Like Jesus" and the sheet music is available for all of those at www.jameswardmusic.com