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Kansas City's rich choral tradition shines during the holiday season

Director Charles Bruffy leads the Kansas City Chorale in performance at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art
Nicholas Paradas
Director Charles Bruffy leads the Kansas City Chorale in performance at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art

Choral music traditions and the holiday season go hand-in-hand. Whether you're hoping to join in on Handel's 'Messiah' or experience premieres of newly written works, learn more about a sampling of upcoming events from Kansas City's vibrant choral music scene.

This story was first published in Classical KC's "Take Note" newsletter. You can sign up to receive stories like this in your inbox the first Wednesday of every month.

Kansas City has a strong vocal tradition, displayed prominently in our impressive array of choirs.

But these aren’t just groups of pleasantly blended timbres. Local choirs gather and sing to build community, raise awareness for social issues and celebrate our hometown talent.

From the Grammy Award-winning Kansas City Chorale to the many high level volunteer choruses who perform regularly — featuring everything from traditional choral music to premiering new works — you could immerse yourself in multiple concerts a week. And while December is our traditional “all choirs all the time” season, these ensembles are presenting beautiful, gratifying concerts throughout the year.

Social calendars fill up fast this time of year, so here’s our head’s up on the choral rundown this season.

Better together

Professional choristers from around the state gather to perform as the Missouri Choral Artists. On Saturday, Nov. 4, they'll perform "Cycles," conducted by Marques Jerrell Ruff, at Pine Ridge Presbyterian Church in Kansas City's Northland.

Choral Spectrum was founded in 2018 by Michael Robert Patch as a mixed ensemble to support the LGBTQIA+ community. On Saturday, Nov. 4, and Sunday, Nov. 5, they present “From Above,” a reflection of human existence and expression at Holmeswood Baptist Church.

Choirs Cardinalis and Ordained have teamed up to present the "Canon for Racial Reconciliation," a new work written by Isaac Cates and Nicholas Reeves. William Jewell College commissioned the piece to help address the legacy of slavery in the college’s history. It will premiere at Community Christian Church on Sunday, Nov. 5.

Cates, founder and director of Ordained, and Cardinalis director Anthony Maglione spoke with Classical KC about how the work came to be, combining religious backgrounds and vocal styles to seek a place of understanding and healing.

Ordained performing at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts during the 2019 National American Choir Directors Association Conference.

The William Baker Festival Singers open their 26th season with “Music Down in My Soul” at 3 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 5, at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church. The 50-member choir offers an eclectic mix of classical works, spirituals and gospel songs alongside new works. This particular performance includes the Kansas City premieres of Edmund Jolliffe’s “Wessobrunn Prayer” and Zachary James Ritter’s “The Sometime Joy of Reminiscing.”

The group also hosts the annual Thanksgiving Concert for Human Need on Nov. 17 in Liberty, Missouri, with proceeds from the concert going to support a charity. It’s a tradition they’ve maintained since their founding in 1998.

The Kansas City chapter of Millennial Choirs and Orchestras presents "The World Was Waiting," a program featuring holiday favorites and carols from around the world, at the Kauffman Center on Monday, Dec. 4 at 7 p.m.

In celebration

KCVITAs tackles three holidays in one concert for “Ghosts, Gourds, and Garlands” at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church on Friday, Nov. 10 and Sunday Nov. 12. Each themed set — Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas — will take place in a different area of the venue and have its own themed cocktail. KCVITAs is committed to performing new music and this concert includes several never-before-heard works specific to the season.  

In Lawrence, Kansas, the world-renowned Vienna Boys’ Choir performs at the Lied Center on Saturday, Nov. 11, with a varied program that includes music from J.S. Bach, Giacomo Puccini, Willie Nelson and Joe Hisaishi.

Musica Vocale hosts a centennial celebration for composers from the last four centuries with “Memento Mori.” The concert on Sunday, Nov. 12, includes works from William Byrd, Anton Bruckner, and Gabriel Faure (among others) at Rainbow Mennonite Church.

If you’re looking for a solely homegrown performance, consider “KC*AF: Kansas City Made,” from the Kansas City Women’s Chorus. In musical terms that’s “ad finem” — “to the end” — and the ensemble corralled a variety of KC-centric works to enliven that hometown spirit at the Gem Theater on Friday, Nov. 17, and Saturday, Nov. 18.

Time for reflection

The weekend before Thanksgiving, Northland Community Choir shares “Blest by Everything—Songs of Gratitude and Thanks” at Parkville Presbyterian Church on Sunday, Nov. 19.

The Kansas City Symphony Chorus performs with the Kansas City Symphony for “Music Illuminates the Soul” Nov. 17-19 in Helzberg Hall with guest conductor Eduardo Strausser. The concert features the spiritual expression of Arvo Pärt, drama of Giuseppe Verdi, and thrill of Franz Schubert’s Symphony no. 2.

Once December rolls around, the group launches into seasonal fare with Handel’s "Messiah” Dec. 1-3 and the traditional “Christmas Festival,” which will take place Dec. 14-17 with youth ensemble Allegro Choirs.

The Symphony Chorus is directed by Grammy Award-winning director Charles Bruffy, who also leads the Kansas City Chorale. They start the holiday season off with the annual Wintersong gala in Rozelle Court at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art on Thursday, Nov. 30.

If you can’t wait that long, you can hear the Kansas City Chorale’s Spring 2023 performance on the Classical KC Concert Hall.

Kansas City Chorale’s 2019 Holiday Pops concert at the 1900 Building.

Keeping the tradition

Vocal music is a beloved tradition of the holiday season, melodies mingling with firelight, the warmth of fellow feeling, allure of age-old stories and hope for peace and renewal as we approach the winter solstice.

For many ensembles, the month of November is just a warm up to the extensive offerings that close the year. Groups like the Kansas City Chorale and Kansas City Symphony Chorus have even more concerts coming up in December, along with annual holiday performances by the Heartland Men’s Chorus (Dec. 2-3, 10), Te Deum (Dec 18-19), and Spire Chamber Ensemble (Dec 18-19).

UMKC Choirs presents their annual holiday celebration, "A Season of Giving," on Dec. 2 at Visitation Prairie Church in Kansas City. All proceeds go to the Harvesters Community Food Network.

Liberty Community Chorus collaborates with StoneLion Puppet Theatre for a Dec. 3 Christmas show at St. James Catholic Church in Liberty. At St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Lee’s Summit, join in the annual Messiah Sing-along on Dec. 10. William Jewell College hosts the annual “City Come Again” at Grace and Holy Trinity on Dec. 11. Classical KC broadcast the 2022 performance.

The St. Paul's Episcopal Choir will be performing their annual "Messiah" Sunday on December 10th. This 10am service will be accompanied by Dr. Kurt Knecht on harpsichord, Sascha Groschang on cello, and Zsolt Eder on violin.

Add to that roster the region’s community choirs, college groups, church choirs, sing-alongs, and youth ensembles and it’s a season rich in song.

Do you have a favorite choral tradition during the holidays? Are we missing a concert that you think should be highlighted? Let us know! Email us at classical@classicalkc.org with your thoughts.

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen is a freelance writer in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. Learn more at Proust Eats a Sandwich.