Choir-filled hometown symphony concert astounding

Lana Sweeten-Shults , Times Record News 10:13 a.m. CST December 11, 2016

Hark! The choirs did sing, and they were spectacular.

Soprano Melissa Ward did sing, too, and she was spectacular, standing ovation included.

And the Wichita Falls Symphony Orchestra, whose numbers were rounded out by the 60-member or so Wichita Falls Youth Symphony Orchestra?

Yes, stupendously spectacular.

The WFSO, after several years of not tooting its own horns with the Wichita Falls ISD’s combined choirs, did so once again alongside some tremendous local talent Dec. 10 at Memorial Auditorium for its Hometown Holiday concert.

What’s amazing about the hometown-themed holiday concerts is that it’s a rare opportunity to see local talent all concentrated on one stage.

“Is she local?” one symphony-goer asked after Ward’s knock-out rendition of “Oh, Holy Night” – a performance that gave you goosebumps when she hit that high note while singing “Oh night … divine!”

That symphony-goer was surprised to learn that she is from the Wichita Falls area.

A couple hundred or more choir students from Hirschi, Wichita Falls and Rider high schools nailed their performance on several works.

“Carol of the Bells,” directed by Rider choir director Melanie Coons, resonated as the combined choirs’ many voices pipe in with so many different vocal parts going on simultaneously. It was a resplendent performance, though not quite my favorite from the combined choirs.

I gravitated toward the more spiritual pieces, namely “Follow That Star,” helmed by Hirschi choir director Mineasa Nesbit, and “Star in the East,” led by Wichita Falls High choir director Chris Jarvis, complete with clapping and insistent foot-stomping for rhythm.

Those songs stood out among the mostly traditional reverent tunes generally heard at Christmastime.

The choir also turned in a beautiful, peace-inducing “Silent Night,” directed by Rider assistant choir director Sarah Cook.

What I loved seeing was the choirs working together so well and ending a phrase so crisply. They gave strong performances.

Ward was so confident during “O Holy Night,” arranged by David Clydesdale, which included a prologue from the Bible about the birth of Jesus. Ward has such a powerful voice that stuns you, particularly when she hits those high notes with abandon.

Though, the favorite piece of the evening for my 12-year-old co-reviewer was Jeff Tyzik’s “The 12 Gifts of Christmas,” a rendition of the “12 Days of Christmas” that featured different sections of the orchestra as gifts. My favorite “gift” was the brassy horn section, which went into snazzy big band mode, and then hearing the orchestra break into mini Beethoven, Brahms and Mozart popular works was just fun.

It was one of those effervescent numbers, and the orchestra was lively and entertaining throughout.

The WFSO followed tradition for this concert, which included an audience sing-along section, as well as an appearance by Santa and the traditional end of the hometown Christmas concerts, a performance of Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride.” “Sleigh Ride” comes complete with percussion and brass sounds in which you really do somehow hear a horse-pulled sleigh.

I can’t fail to mention the Wichita Falls Youth Symphony, directed by Susan Harvey, which added such depth and texture to this holiday performance. They made the orchestra sound fuller and richer – in particular, I heard those happy flutists in the opening number, Leroy Anderson’s “A Christmas Festival.”

In past years, the two orchestras weren’t always in sync, but this year, the main and youth orchestras played as one and sounded as strong as ever.

And then there was the evening’s guest conductor, Jerry Steichen, music director of the Macon (Georgia) Symphony Orchestra, though he’s from Tonkawa, Oklahoma.

It’s too bad Steichen isn’t one of the finalists for the symphony conductor job. He had such a rapport with the audience and is so likable and energetic. He was one of the joys of the evening.

The only thing I wished by the end of the concert was to hear Mineasa Nesbit sing. The Hirschi choir director also is one of those stunning local talents.

The WFSO’s next concert will be 7:30 p.m. Feb. 18 at Memorial Auditorium and will feature pianist Sean Chen and finalist conductor Fouad Fakhouri.

Follow Times Record News senior editor/reporter Lana Sweeten-Shults on Twitter @LanaSweetenShul.