Every holiday season, the Lexington Chamber Chorale returns to the event that started it all.
Twenty-one years ago, director Gary Anderson and a group of singers got together at a private home for a party that included some performances and sing-along choruses. They called it "Sing Noel." Now the event takes place at Central Baptist Church, where it will be Sunday, but Anderson says the idea is essentially the same.
"We've outgrown those other settings, but it's still a 'Sing Noel' party with music," he says. "It's a party with a concert, as opposed to 'Here's a concert, and we have food later.'"
That's the overriding tradition of the event, which has established several traditions that have endured over the last two decades.
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It always opens with a chorus like O Come, O Come Emmanuel, and then there's a processional and a singing of the Messiah chorus And the Glory of the Lord.
There is always a Madrigal feast with a singing of Wassail, Wassail, and it concludes with Silent Night and the Swedish folk song Wonderful Peace.
Over the years, Anderson says, he has thought about changing things, such as the audience carol-sing, "and I've been told, 'Do not change it. That's what they really want to do — sing familiar carols,' which makes sense. And we have some arrangements of carols we always do, and we do that, like an arrangement of the Wassail song where we act it out, and we do that, and it's fun.
"So it's not like it's a brand-new concert every year, but it has to be fresh every year."
While things have stayed the course for the Chamber Chorale's annual Christmas event, the workload of the group has changed dramatically, particularly in the past couple of years.
When the Lexington Philharmonic Orchestra's music director, Scott Terrell, downsized the orchestra's presentation of Handel's Messiah to more Baroque proportions, the Chamber Chorale was ultimately tapped to be the chorus for the performance, which it has now done for two consecutive years. (The Philharmonic's Messiah was presented Dec. 1 and 2.)
Anderson says that was a taller order last year, when Messiah was new to the Chorale, as was working with Terrell.
"A lot of the heavy lifting was done last year," Anderson says. "We wanted to get it tighter, which I really believe we did — more accurate and more into the styles."
In addition to the Chamber Chorale's Messiah and "Sing Noel," Anderson has to head up Friday night's holiday program for the music department at Transylvania University, where he is a professor, and holiday music for Second Presbyterian Church, where he is the music director.
With all that on the Chorale's and Anderson's plates, it would have been easy to assume that something might have had to give, say, "Sing Noel." Anderson says no way.
"We would have lost some of our identity, which I would never want to do," he says, adding that there was never any question whether the program would continue. "The 'Sing Noel' we have done every year. ... It's still our biggest event of the year."
And being incredibly busy at the holidays is something that simply comes with the territory of being a music director, Anderson says.
"What else would I rather be doing other than conducting some of the greatest music ever written?" he asks.