REVIEW:  Music for the season, both old and new filled the Music Center at Strathmore

by Patrick D. McCoy

When you have a good meal, the tendency is to go back for more.  “A Candlelight Christmas” presented each year by The Washington Chorus at both The Music Center at Strathmore and at The Kennedy Center is something to look forward to each year.  We took in the concert at Strathmore, which was the first of five.  The remaining four will be performed at The Kennedy Center.  During COVID, one of the innovative things that The Washington Chorus did during that time was to offer this particular concert virtually.  With the world now open and back in full swing, it seemed that fans of the popular concert took the opportunity to experience it up, close and personal.  Strathmore was packed to the brim, with audience members dressed in their holiday attire. Every balcony and seat was virtually filled.  There was a welcomed bustle in the space.

The concert itself was a mix of both old and new sounds of the season.  Under the direction of music director Eugene Rogers, the chorus, brass, organ and percussion presented us with a festive evening of music.  The traditional processional carol “Once in Royal David’s City” provided the opportunity for the chorus to make its candlelight entrance into the hall.  Soprano Deena Tumeh begin the carol with an        sweet a cappella soprano from which the full chorus blossomed with the instrumental accompaniment.  Organist Nathaniel Gumbs accompanied with great sensitivity throughout.  The Washington Chorus in recent years has had several conductors that have made their mark during their tenure over the years.  The bold, brash setting of “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” by Julian Wachner gave Dr. Gumbs the opportunity to come out of the texture with fuller organ.  Swelling with the brass and percussion, Eugene Rogers invited the audience to join in.  Something that was truly enjoyable about the concert was the way in which Rogers curated the event.  The audience truly felt like they were a part of the experience by Rogers with his engaging personality.  When he asked how many were experiencing a TWC Candlelight Christmas concert for the first time, almost the entire hall, top to bottom raised their hands.  That was certainly good news and offers hope.  Often when something has been ‘tried and true’ there is a tendency not to make a lot of changes.  Rogers did however make the program his own by interjecting some of his fresh musical ideas.  The music of local composer Jonathan Kolm brought us the beautiful addition of “A Winter Blue Jay” to the program. The flowing piano accompaniment added a playful dimension to the work as the voices sang lush harmonies that reflected the crisp beauty of wintertime.  “In the Bleak Midwinter” by Becky McGlade was a wonderful contrast to the familiar Darke or Holst settings.  Here, under Rogers’ direction, the chorus sang with achingly soft beauty that gave way to the lyrical suspensions that reinforced the final stanza “what can I give Him.’  The final resolution by the tenors solidified the idea that the gift was indeed the heart.

“What is This Lovely Fragrance” by Chester L. Alwes allowed the voices to crest upon the organ accompaniment. Providing just the right amount of balance of foundation stops by Dr. Gumbs, the familiar carol swelled to its conclusion.  Alwes, who was Eugene Rogers’ professor in undergraduate school was present and recognized.   “Sov! Sov! Sov!’ was a wonderfully spirited piece that shined the spotlight on the National Capital Brass and Percussion. “Mary Had A Baby” arranged by Roland Carter created a soulful twist in the program with bass Brian Duckworth, who moved around the melody of the spiritual with such finesse as the chorus responded in turn.    The evening continued with several opportunities for the audience to join in on the singing of familiar holiday tunes in “Christmas Medley’ also by Alwes.  Probably the highlight of this section was the teaching of the ‘Santa Claus Shuffle’ by Rogers.  Now with the audience up on their feet in full swing the rousing singing inspired a visit from ‘Mr. and Mrs. Claus with their helpers to sheer delight.  “Grand Fantasia on Joy to the World” by Marc Cheban gave guest organist Nathaniel Gumbs the opportunity demonstrate his virtuoso prowess at the instrument.  With fancy foot work, varying solo stops and subtle dynamic contrasts, the strains of the familiar carol resounded with full grandeur.

The GenOut Youth Chorus performed two pieces:  “Still, Still, Still” arranged by Victor C. Johnson and “When We’re Together” arr. Mac Huff.  Small in number, but mighty in excitement, the ensemble of young singers under the direction of C. Paul Heins were well received by the audience.  Accomplished jazz singer and pianist Aaron Myers took the stage to perform his arrangement of “The Christmas Song” by Mel Tormé and then the chorus joined him for a special song that he wrote entitled “Love all Year.”  This song truly encapsulated the feelings of recent years as Myers noted that “love knows no distance.”  The sentiment was fully received and the touching musical selection sparked rapturous applause.

“The Dream Isaiah Saw” by Glenn L. Rudolph over the years has become at signature finale of The Washington Chorus Candlelight Christmas concerts.  A majestic aggregation of chorus, brass, organ and percussion stirred the listeners as the anthem swelled to its close.  Ending the evening was a touching singing of “Silent Night” with cell phones uplifted all around the hall like candles.


–You have 4 more opportunities to catch this wonderful concert at The Kennedy Center.




A native of Petersburg, VA, Patrick holds a BM in Vocal Performance from Virginia State University and a MM in Church Music from Shenandoah Conservatory. Formerly the Performing Arts Columnist for Washington Life Magazine, he currently is a freelance writer, publishing articles for several noted publications and organizations, including The Washington Post, Early Music America, Classical Music Voice North America, The Afro-American Newspaper, Prince George’s Suite Magazine, CBS Washington, and Washington Classical Review. He holds membership in the Music Critics Association of North America, National Association of Negro Musicians, Inc., American Choral Directors’ Association, Association of Anglican Musicians, a former member of the Shenandoah University Alumni Board of Directors, a member of the Shenandoah University Black Alumni Network, a Life Member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc. and a member of the Sigma Zeta Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America.  As an alumnus of Shenandoah, he was named to the Dean’s Circle of the Shenandoah Conservatory Advisory Board.  He enters his 7th year as Organist/Choirmaster at Saint John’s Episcopal Church, Zion Parish in Beltsville, MD and is the newly hired Development and Communications Manager for Washington Conservatory of Music in Glen Echo, MD.  Patrick is the host of “Across the Arts” both a live and virtual media platform covering the performing arts.  Visit and follow him on Facebook and Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy, IG: PDM06. and subscribe to “Across the Arts” on YouTube.