It’s back to tradition for the Crow River Singers. The community choir is returning to live performances with two concerts: 7 p.m. Friday, Dec. 3, and 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 5, both in the sanctuary at Peace Lutheran Church in Hutchinson.
Unlike past years, the concerts are not underwritten by a grant from the Southwest Minnesota Arts Council. According to Holly Dapper, choir coordinator, there were too many variables due to COVID-19.
“We wanted the flexibility to be able to change things last minute or totally cancel if necessary,” she said.
Cancelling is something with which Dapper is familiar. Like almost everything else, the Crow River Singers performed their last public concerts in 2019. When it came time to schedule the spring concerts, the COVID-19 pandemic caused them to be canceled, as well as the December 2020 concerts.
After an almost year break, the choir returned to in-person rehearsals in September under the direction of Paul Otte and Jim Nelson. Rather than the usual 50-plus voices, this group is smaller. Past rehearsals were in the Peace Lutheran choir room, due to concerns about COVID-19, the choir moved to the basement and sometimes the sanctuary to allow for social distancing.
“We stress to choir members that if they do not feel well, do not come to rehearsal,” Dapper said. “So far, all has been going well.”
Other changes for this weekend’s concerts include an increase in ticket prices: $9 for adults and free for children younger than 12. There are no refreshments this year.
Under the direction of Jim Nelson, the choir will kick off its program with the well-known Christmas carol “Once in Royal David’s City,” which tells the story of the birth of Jesus. It was originally written as a poem by Cecil Frances Alexander and published in the 1848 hymnbook “Hymns for Little Children.” It took Henry John Gauntlett, an English organist, to put the poem to music in 1849.
In addition to this crowd favorite, the concerts feature a blend of traditional and contemporary music. Other well-known carols include “Gesu Bambino,” “Before the Marvel of this Night” and “Carol of the Animals.”
As much as the two live-music events are a salute to traditional Christmas carols, it’s not all hymns. They’ve broken things up with spirituals and modern classics including “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” “For the Longest (quarantine) Time,” ‘A-Rockin’ All Night,” “Dig that Crazy Santa Claus” and “Happy Holiday/White Christmas.”
FROM THE PERFORMERS
DeeAnn Hartsuiker of Hutchinson has been a member for four years. She joined the community chorus for the best of reasons — she loves to sing.
”Having practiced for the (2020) spring concerts, only for them to be canceled was heartbreaking,” she said. “We put a lot of time in preparing the songs and I also practice at home, so to miss the concert was a disappointment.”
When in-person rehearsals were announced for September, Hartsuiker said it was “amazing” to be together again.
When it comes to favorite songs for this weekend’s concerts, Hartsuiker said, “Go Tell it on the Mountain” is one she’s been singing since she was a little girl. Her other favorite is “Breath of Heaven.”
“The chords and the words are beautiful and remind us of the true reason of the season,” she said.
Like Hartsuiker, Larry Macht of Glencoe joined four or five years ago. He became a member because he had always loved to sing since his choir days at Kennedy High School in Bloomington.
“I went to a meeting about the choir and Holly (Dapper) and Paul (Otte) and the other members seemed so welcoming, I decided to give it a try,” Macht said.
Again like Hartsuiker, Macht said missing a year due to the Covid-19 pandemic was difficult.
“I always feel uplifted when I sing and so I was a feeling that something was missing in my life,” he said.
Returning to in-person rehearsals felt good to Macht. He didn’t have any fear since he had all his vaccine shots.
“It was like seeing family and friends after a long absence,” he said.
When it comes to favorite carols, Macht said “Breath of Heaven” has been one of his favorites since he sang it during the Easter play at Riverside Assembly of God Church in Hutchinson.
“’Goin’ to Bethlehem’ and ‘Go Tell it on the Mountain’ are also favorites,” he said. “Singing spirituals have always reminded me that even if life is difficult, singing praises to the Lord helps bring joy to one’s life.”