Wintertide was worth the price of admission and much more. In an hour and a half, the audience was time traveling and soul searching. That’s what a program like this does—it takes us on a ride. It reminds us through the medium of music just how vulnerable we are as humans and yet, how the very essence of life itself is filled with hope and glory.

“Wintertide” was directed by Jeff Sandquist and performed at the Presbyterian Church on Saturday evening, with a matinee performance on Sunday afternoon. It was a program of contrasts.  It captured the cold and wan, solitary starkness of winter as well as the festive, reverent period of Christmas. Presented by the Rolla Choral Arts Society, the program makes way for all of the community choirs, young and old, to share the stage at various periods in the program: the Jazz Choirs, the Rolla Community Choir, Men of Song, the RCCC Young Singers and the Combined Children’s Choirs. Two out-of-town vocalists were featured: Soprano Rebecca Reed and Tenor Tristan Frampton. Musical accompaniment was provided by Ilene Morgan and Katherine Yu on the flute and Kathy Mazzeo on the piano.
Wintertide opened on a holiday get-you-in-the mood note with the Jazz Choir’s versions of “Jingle Bells,” “This Christmas,” “Candy Cane Lane,” “Have You Seen the Baby” and “We Three Kings.” “This Christmas” and “Candy Cane Lane” were reminiscent of some of the easy listening, smooth jazz arrangements made popular in the 1950’s. Whether intended or not, the balance swung to the female voices, typical of that time period when the tail fins on the Fords and Chevys rivaled for attention with the shaken martinis.
The audience was into it because they were supposed to hold their applause until the Rolla Community Choir and Men of Song joined in for a rendition of “St. Nicholas,” arranged by Irishman Michael McGlynn. At least that’s what the printed program indicated, but no harm done. The jazzy opening was just what Santa Clause would have ordered.
The Rolla Community Choir performed Norwegian Ola Gjeilo’s arrangement of “Wintertide,” taking the program in a little different direction. The show’s namesake song was the added salt and sugar to set the season squarely in the bittersweet seasonal abyss we call “winter.” This was followed up by the now well-known “Carol of the Bells.” Based on a Ukranian folk chant, the Rolla Community Choir captured perfectly the mysterious urgency of the vocalized “bells,” followed up with the lead soprano melody that vaulted the song into its serious crescendo. It is supposed to be a song of good cheer referring to a bountiful harvest, but it takes on an almost sinister tone—the fact that winter represents hardship and death, so perhaps some of the translation got lost over time. A bountiful harvest is room for celebration, but crows have to eat as well, and they’re not too particular.
The RCCC Young Singers were up next and performed “Wind on the Hill,” “O Come Little Children” and “Child of Tomorrow,” a particularly moving song about the birth of Christ and seeds of human greatness hidden within every child. Ages 7-12, these young singers are still finding their voices, but the enthusiasm wasn’t lacking, particularly for the Combined Children’s Choirs for a rousing rendition of “Over the River and Through the Woods.”
There were many choral selections that stood out, each with their own strength, whether it was lyrics, arrangement, or both.  The Rolla Community Children’s Choir’s version of “We Will Sing the World Whole Again, by Mark Burrows, struck the heart, billed as “a call for peace.” With visions of war-torn countries and lost refugees, the lyrics “we will gather the pieces when they’re broken, we will sing the world whole again,” sung by young voices, made it difficult to keep a dry eye.
On and on, from Jingle Bells to Ola Gjeilo’s arrangement of The First Nowell (Noel), to Away in a Manger, where Rebecca Reed’s solo was not of this world. The layered voices of the choir behind her brought to mind what the “heavenly voices” must be like, spoken of in The Bible. The reverence—the awe of the blended tones, produced something this audience would not soon forget. It was a beauty that transcended words.
The program was well-rehearsed. Even some of the over-zealous younger voices added to the family entertainment that vacillated between thoughts of hot apple cider, tapestries of swirling snow and ice-etched windows, but the cold and lonely North wind was never far behind. It captured the humanity of this complex and awesome season perfectly. Just about the time you felt very alone and lost within a melancholy melody, you were jolted right back to warm, beautiful gifts of the season, like good friends, family and a Savior that came to tell the world about salvation and life beyond death.

Wintertide was worth the price of admission and much more. In an hour and a half, the audience was time traveling and soul searching. That’s what a program like this does—it takes us on a ride. It reminds us through the medium of music just how vulnerable we are as humans and yet, how the very essence of life itself is filled with hope and glory.
“Heigh ho the holly! This life is most jolly!”
(“Blow, Blow, Blow Thou Winter Wind,” sung by the Rolla Men of Song).