- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 30, 2008

Christmas music again fills the air. Churches, concert halls, theaters and impromptu stages across the Washington region proclaim merry tidings in a season of joyous song.

A look at performance highlights reveals a wide variety of musical genres. Most popular in this city of singers are the choral offerings, from the massed voices of powerhouses like the Choral Arts Society of Washington and the New Dominion Chorale, some 200 voices strong, to chamber choruses like the National Men’s Chorus and the Alexandria Choral Society, which includes about 60 adults and children.

Yet the range of delights for the ear seems virtually limitless. Increasingly popular are Celtic nods to the season. The stalwart Barnes and Hampton Celtic Consort’s “A Celtic Christmas” (www.dumbartonconcerts.org) now heads a roster around town that also includes Teada’s “Irish Christmas in America” (www.nationalgeographic. com) and the Canadian brother-and-sister octet Leahy exploring its Celtic roots in “A Leahy Family Christmas” (www.gmu.edu/cfa).

Along similar folk lines, audiences will find the Alexandria Kleztet (www.kleztet.com) performing klezmer fare at a number of venues and a children’s show called “Seasons of Light” delving into wintertime celebrations of light around the world (www.discovery theater.com). And, of course, the perennial favorite, Christmas Revels, travels to a new place and time every year, while honoring the winter solstice with music, dance and story (www.revelsdc.org).

If that weren’t enough, more than 100 tubas, sousaphones and euphoniums will fill the Kennedy Center foyer for “Merry TubaChristmas” (www. kennedy-center.org), and military bands trumpet the season, including the U.S. Marine Band’s “Holiday Sing-A-Long” with thousands at Wolf Trap (www.wolftrap.org). There are also holiday jazz, opera, early-music and “Messiah” concerts, and Nutcrackers in hip-hop, puppet and classical interpretations.

“We have a stage full of joy this year,” said Christmas Revels director Roberta Gasbarre recently. She called the upcoming program, slated for Lisner Auditorium over the next two weekends, “wild and wonderful.”

Billed as “A French-Canadian Winter Celebration,” the 26th annual Christmas Revels features folk music, dance and tales from Quebec. It weaves a story centered on the early settlement of Trois-Rivieres nearly 200 years ago.

Legend tells of five farmers who went adventuring in the wilds of Acadia. They spend nearly a year in the wilderness before longing for home during le Temps des Fetes, the French-Canadian equivalent of the Twelve Days of Christmas. One of the explorers rashly promises his soul to the devil in exchange for a trip home, which is immediately effected in a flying canoe. The fate of their souls then hangs on a dance-off between the devil and the village priest, played by Quebecois step dancer Pierre Chartrand.

Audience participation includes dancing and singing in this rousing intergenerational production, guaranteed by Ms. Gasbarre to put you in “a great, great mood.” She suggests bringing friends and family with whom “you don’t get together much” and then going somewhere to eat afterward.

“Revels, for some reason, goes really well with a meal and a celebration,” she said.

Another Washington tradition rivaling Revels in its longevity is Barnes and Hampton Celtic Consort’s candlelit “A Celtic Christmas” at historic Dumbarton Church in Georgetown for the past 22 years.

“It’s a feast of variety,” said Linn Barnes about his group’s program. “We take great pride in trying to make it available to a wide audience.”

Variety comes from their diverse assortment of instruments, for one thing. He plays everything from lutes, banjos, guitar and harp-guitar to mandolin, cittern and the uillean pipes, a small Irish bagpipe. Allison Hampton, his wife of 30 years, focuses on various Celtic harps, but also can play lute. Flutist Joseph Cunliffe joins them, along with percussionist Steve Bloom on bodhran.

Variety also springs from their wide-ranging repertoire, which can go from Renaissance and Baroque to Celtic and Appalachian music “without batting an eyelash,” Mr. Barnes said. Often there is crossover and always there is something new. For example, this year they arranged three 16th-century lute pieces for uillean pipes and Celtic harp and will try out the four-string Irish banjo for the first time.

There will be much more amid the greens and poinsettias, of course, including carols for the audience to join in on, and dramatic readings by XM Radio’s Robert Aubry Davis. His rendition of Dylan Thomas’ classic “A Child’s Christmas in Wales” will be accompanied by music composed by the consort especially for the occasion.

For a more complete listing of the area’s musical holiday offering, click here.

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