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It’s Time For Winter Festival

Published: December 1, 2015

IMAGE COURTESY OF MATT POGUE

More than 200 singers will help ring in the holidays with favorite carols, songs and classical works at the Winter Festival Concert to be held in the First Congregational Church of Long Beach on Saturday, Dec. 5, at 4 and 8 p.m. and on Sunday, Dec. 6, at 4 p.m. Admission is $25, $15 and $10.

The traditional concert, now in its fifth decade, also offers the accompaniment of the First Congregational Church’s Möller organ, handbells, vocal jazz and the combined voices of all seven CSULB choirs.

“What’s really exciting about the Winter Festival is that we take a variety of music, everything from the Renaissance to a piece written last year, from music for 200 singers to music for 20, and we weave together a concert that lasts between an hour and a half and two hours,” said the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music’s Director of Choral Studies Jonathan Talberg. “If you’ve never heard what it’s like to hear 200 people sing beautifully together, it really is an emotionally overwhelming experience. That is even true for me and I’ve been in choral music my whole life.”

Every piece relates to letting in the light during the darkest time of the year. “It isn’t a Christian concert but there’s Christmas music. It is not a Jewish concert but there is Hanukkah music,” said Talberg. “Although we perform multicultural music as well as non-religious holiday music, we still do David Wilcox’s `Oh, Come, All Ye Faithful.’ This year, the performance takes on special poignancy because we’ve done it every year for the last 15 and Sir David passed away just this last September.”

There are moments in the concert for audience participation. “We do ‘Oh, Come All Ye Faithful’ as a singalong. There is a lot of interaction between the performers and the performers,” said Talberg. “One of the reasons this concert is so special is that it brings out the best from youthful singers. They’re full of joy and promise. There is so much commitment to the art of choral music. People love college football for the same reasons they love college musical concerts; we have the same sort of energy and excitement. Every year, I greet the audience at the end of the concert. I shake their hands and thank them for coming. Every year they tell me it was the best concert ever. It can’t always be the best concert ever but it feels that way.”

One of the concert’s enduring appeals is its setting in the First Congregational Church of Long Beach. At a little more than 100 years old, it is on the National Register of Historic Places, according to Talberg.

“It has a beautiful wraparound balcony where we put choirs,” he said. “We put the brass on the floor. We utilize the entire space. And on the 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday concert, you even see the sun set through the stained glass windows. The great Möller organ is a very American-sounding organ with a lot of power. It gives a lot of oomph to the concert.”

Talberg believes the Winter Festival represents an ongoing partnership between the First Congregational Church of Long Beach and CSULB.

“It is a partnership that has lasted more than 35 years and is the largest event we do off campus,” he said. “We’ll have about 2,000 in attendance. Ex-Gov. George Deukmejian has come many times. The mayor has come in past years. The CSU Chancellor came last year. It’s nice to see that kind of support.”

Talberg encourages both the campus and the surrounding community to attend.

“I think there are very few opportunities in modern life to be completely engrossed in a live performance with hundreds of human beings entertaining you. This is one of those opportunities,” he said. “Most of us don’t find ourselves in the same room with 200 performers who have spent an aggregate of hundreds of hours of their lives to give audiences a two-hour experience that is joyful and uplifting and, hopefully, life-changing. I think this concert is one of the things that can do that.”