UMaine choirs, orchestra come together for annual ‘Yuletide’ concert

On Sunday, Dec. 6, the University of Maine School of Performing Arts presented its 38th annual Yuletide Concert at the Collins Center for the Arts (CCA). The concert featured all four of the university’s choirs, including Oratorio Society, University Singers, Collegiate Chorale and the Black Bear Men’s Chorus.

Each choir performed their own Christmas repertoire and in the end, a combined choir of more than 200 singers and the university Orchestra performed well-known Christmas classics such as “O Holy Night,” “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah” and “Festival First Nowell.”

Directed by Francis J. Vogt, director of choral activities at UMaine, the Yuletide featured four faculty conductors including Vogt, three student conductors and Anatolie Wieck, who conducted the University Orchestra. It is a Yuletide Concert tradition and a learning opportunity to have students conduct alongside faculty.

For Kosaku Tsubata, a third-year Japanese exchange student from Hirosaki University, this was the first Christmas concert that in which he performed. Tsubata started playing contrabass his first year of college, and was eager to join the orchestra during his time at UMaine.

“I wanted to see a difference between the orchestra in U.S. and Japan,” Tsubata said. “I can’t compare, because both [orchestras] are really good,” Tsubata said when asked which country’s orchestra he prefers.

Tsubata shared that in Japan, people do not usually get excited about Christmas until Dec. 24 or 25.

“Playing all this Christmas music made me excited about the holiday way in advance,” Tsubata said.

The choral directors start planning for Yuletide at the end of  summer, which is when they pick music for the upcoming school year.

“At the end of summer, we start thinking what pieces could be good for Yuletide, and choose the pieces that we like best,” Vogt said.

Midpoint through the semester, choral directors got together and discussed the logistical parts of the Yuletide Concert. Individual choirs rehearsed for Yuletide during their regular meeting times, and during the week of the concert, combined choirs and orchestra rehearse for the final pieces of the concert.

“I love the feeling of the ‘mega choir,’” Liz Park, a member of the University Singers, said. “Being in a sound that huge feels like nothing else. It is what I live for, to feel that amount of power. Especially in the ‘Hallelujah Chorus,’ I get chills up my spine.”

Tsubata also enjoyed performing with the choir.

“As a musician, I never had that kind of experience before, and it is a really good experience. However, with really loud voices of the singers, it is a little hard to listen to the sound of the instrument, so I have to pay more attention to it,” Tsubata said.

“It was hard to rehearse with the orchestra,” Park added. “It changes everything, but it definitely pays off in the end, and orchestra makes the sound so much fuller.”

During the concert, the CCA was filled with students and members of the community.

“CCA is a big space, and I am excited I get to play here,” Tsubata shared.

“Yuletide goes back before the CCA was built, and before I came here,” Vogt, who has been teaching at UMaine for 36 years, said. Recently, Vogt found a Yuletide Concert program which took place in the late 1960’s at the Hauck Auditorium. “Some Oratorio members have been singing in the Yuletide Concerts for over 40 years,” Vogt shared.

“There is something about choral music that people want to hear every Christmas time,” Vogt said.

Before going on stage, Park could not help but quote “Elf,” a Christmas favorite directed Jon Favreau: “The best way to spread Christmas cheer is singing loud for all to hear.”

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