REVIEW:  The sounds of Christmas filled Washington National Cathedral for Annual Concert.
by Patrick D. McCoy

Music of the season inspire many different feelings for many people.  The one feeling that was perhaps on display was joy!  Whether it was the familiar carols being played on the carillon to the pomp and brilliance of the Seraph Brass, “Joy of Christmas” by the Cathedral Choral Society had everyone it seemed in a mood to celebrate.  The nave of the Gothic church was filled with concert goers in their holiday red, complimented by the warmth of their exchange of greetings.

The program was one that was very traditional in its offerings, with an occasional twist here and there.  Touching carols like “Once in Royal David City,” “The First Nowell,” “O Come All Ye Faithful,” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” by the society took the listener back to the innocence of a past time while “I Will Light Candles This Christmas” by Kim Andre Arnesen sung by The Children’s Chorus of Washington evoked a glimmer of hopefulness with the moving text by Howard Thurman.  It was wonderful how the music created a rich tapestry that depicted the Christmas story. “They Brought Fine Gifts ” from “The Ballad of the Brown King” by Margaret Bonds presented a wonderful contrast stylistically.  The lush, warm sound under the direction of Fox brought a wonderful depth to the Langston Hughes text.

In excerpts from “Christus” by Felix Mendelssohn, the chorus sang with a wonderful brilliance that shimmered in the beloved chorus “There Shall a Star from Jacob Come Forth,” which was set up wonderfully by the opening soprano recitative.  Organist Thomas Sheehan provided one of the last opportunities for the audience to hear the grandeur of the cathedral’s organ before it undergoes a multi-year renovation.  “Toccatina on “Joy to the World” was a sparkling treatment on the beloved melody with quick passage work in the keyboard and pedals, ending with the full organ.  Bass D. C. Washington connected with the audience with the spiritual “Mary Had a Baby.” Long, spun phrases around the probing text sung in a call and response fashion engaged the listener with the story being told.

What would Christmas be without the joy of children?    In addition to the Arnesen work mentioned earlier, The Children’s Chorus of Washington under the direction of Margaret Nomura Clark continued the spirit of festivity with the processional “Welcome Yule” by William Brown.  Divided between the aisle and the front of the platform, the voices surrounded the listeners.  The use of percussion and movement enhanced this feeling to great effect.

If one entered the cathedral with any other emotion than joy, they certainly had it with them when they left.  There is nothing quite like the organ, bells and voices at Christmas in the grandeur of Washington National Cathedral.  The Cathedral Choral Society was on its home turf and it showed!


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.