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Holidays a cappella returns to Oak Park, Naperville, Chicago, Evanston

The all-Christmas music radio stations might get you into the spirit, but there’s a bit of magic to hearing holiday music in person.

“It’s one thing to listen to music like that, but it’s another thing to actually experience it,” said Matt Greenberg, executive director of Chicago a cappella. “There’s a difference between what you hear on the radio and what you hear when you actually attend a live concert. You sort of feel the music in a much richer way. You see the performers, you feel the energy and the excitement of live music.”

Audience members can enjoy the sounds of the season when Chicago a cappella performs its annual “Holidays a cappella” concert in Chicago and the suburbs.

The concert will be performed at 4 pm Dec. 4 at Pilgrim Congregational Church in Oak Park, 8 pm Dec. 9 at Buchanan Chapel at Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, 8 pm Dec. 17 at Wentz Concert Hall in Naperville, and 4 pm Dec. 18 at Nichols Concert Hall in Evanston.

“Four places that are really concert homes for us and have been for many years,” Greenberg said. “It will feel like a homecoming. Our last program was in April. That’s a long stretch and to be back at these wonderful spaces where we’ve performed for so many years and seeing the familiar faces that we know will be there in the audience, it’s really going to feel like a homecoming.

“Which is perfect because that’s really what the holidays are all about. It’s really about bringing people together and kind of rekindling relationships and rekindling traditions.”

Now in its 30th season, Chicago a cappella will perform quite a few songs that are new to the ensemble as well as audience favorites, he said.

“It’s always a little bit of a balancing act for the holidays,” Greenberg said. “You can’t do the same thing every year but you do want a few familiar favorites in there to get people in the spirit.”

Former ensemble member Benjamin Rivera, who sang with the group for 11 seasons, is guest music director for the program.

“This is the third time he’s come back as a music director,” Greenberg said. “He’s one of the area’s best chorale directors. He’s very, very skilled. And one of his great skills is selecting music, which is what he did for this program.”

Among the pieces that are new to Chicago a cappella is “a relatively new arrangement of a German carol that’s absolutely gorgeous,” he said.

Written by the late John Scott, who was the choir director at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, and then choir director at Saint Thomas Church on Fifth Avenue in New York, the song is a new composition to the ancient text of the carol “There is No Rose.”

“Ben knew he wanted to perform this, but it’s not published. So he was able, through a friend, to speak with the composer’s widow and she gave us the music,” Greenberg said. “So we’re thrilled to be able to do that.”

Other works include selections in French, German and a Puerto Rican villancico, or carol.

“There certainly are some favorites that our audiences will recognize,” Greenberg said.

Like the “wonderful” Gene Puerling arrangement of ‘Deck the Halls,’ which was made famous by The Singers Unlimited and “Jingle a cappella,” which was written for Chicago a cappella and first performed in 2003, he said.

“It’s ‘Jingle Bells.’ A very wild, difficult, up tempo arrangement of ‘Jingle Bells.’” Greenberg said. “It’s kind of a crowd pleaser. We love it.”

While Chicago a cappella will perform a new concert program, “Hanukkah a cappella,” at 8 pm Dec. 10 at Congregation Rodger Zedek in Chicago and 4 pm Dec. 11 at Congregation Sukkat Shalom in Wilmette, audience members can still enjoy music celebrating the Festival of Lights in the Holidays a cappella concerts.

“We’ve included five of those Hanukkah songs in this Holidays concert. So we’ll still give them a healthy serving of fun Hanukkah music and interesting Hanukkah music, even if they don’t go to the Hanukkah a cappella stand alone concerts,” Greenberg said.

Both the Holidays a cappella and Hanukkah a cappella concerts will also be available for streaming on demand starting the week of Dec. 19. Tickets for the links to stream the concerts are $35 for nonmembers. The concerts will be available for viewing through June 30, 2023.

Holidays a cappella Chicago a cappella concert

When: 4 pm Dec 4

Where: Pilgrim Congregational Church, 460 Lake St., Oak Park

When: 8 pm Dec 17

Where: Wentz Concert Hall, 171 E. Chicago Ave., Naperville

When: 4 pm Dec 18

Where: Nichols Concert Hall, 1490 Chicago Ave., Evanston

Tickets: $45 preferred seating; $35 general seating

Information: 773-281-7820; chicagoacappella.org

Kathy Cichon is a freelance reporter for the Naperville Sun.

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