I heard Voices of Ascension in a candlelight Christmas service on 12/15/20. These concerts usually sell out and are a beloved milestone in the concert-going calendar of their audience - - but of course it wasn’t happening like that this year. This year’s concert happened online, with video footage of their 2018 and 2019 holiday concerts and a special solo live performance.
Artistic director Dennis Keene greeted the audience by saying that they were disappointed that they weren’t able to do a holiday concert in person this year, but what a treat to do it for a larger audience on the virtual platform. Turn your frown upside down!
The concert opened with the chorus singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas,” adorable. Followed by the equally adorable baroque trumpet player David Krauss playing “The Prince of Denmark’s March.” What could be cuter than a blond guy with glasses in a tuxedo playing baroque trumpet? And Jesus, like that wasn’t enough, he totally NAILED the high note at the end. He went all Simone Biles on the finish.
Is it OK that I’m over the “Carol of the Bells”? But if I have to hear it, I want to hear Voices of Ascension doing it. The women did a few movements from Britten’s *A Ceremony of Carols.* Divine. Nothing like some harp, am right, Mary Ann Grinde?
The live performance was by baritone Justin Austin singing “Sweet Little Jesus Boy” a cappella. Absolutely stunning, the perfect combination of classical training and honest gospel style.
Next we heard a wonderful James Bassi arrangement of “Joy to World,” with a gentle 6/8 rhythm and a delightful organ part. Bassi has sung with the group for many years, so he writes for them with love and skill. “Joy to the World” led to “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” and “What Child Is This?” which had similar rocking rhythms and some unexpected harmonies. The medley was capped off with a rousing “Angels We Have Heard On High.”
They sang “Winter Wonderland” with a children’s chorus, who sounded adorably wonky. The arrangement had a sort of loping, wagon train beat - - that plus the veddy British-style chorus, the kids, and the organ trying to be something besides square, it was a lot to take in. The whole affect was charming.
A couple more pop-flavored numbers: “Jingle Bells” with the kids and “Sleigh Ride” without them, but with encouraged horse clopping and a few enthusiastic whinnies from the audience. These wonderful things really are the things we’ll remember all through our lives!
A couple more essential songs, “Silent Night” and “O Come All Ye Faithful,” with the greatest descant of all time. Here it is, directly from the source, King's College Cambridge. The descant (that's the decorative line above the tune, sung by the sopranos) comes in at 2:13.
The evening ended with Dennis wishing us all a happy holiday season. Which I also wish to you!