Arts, On Campus

Chorale Concert Brings the Holidays to the Heights

The University Chorale of Boston College put on its annual “Christmas on the Heights” show on Dec. 1, 2, and 3 amid changes to the organization. Chorale is partly under new management this year, with Riikka Pietiläinen Caffrey in her new position as director of Chorale, and Anna Wittstruck replacing the recently retired John Finney as director of the BC Symphony Orchestra. 

Chorale’s big task this year was putting on the annual “Christmas on the Heights” show, held in the Trinity Chapel on Newton Campus, and its new leaders proved that they have what it takes to succeed in their new positions. 

The instrumentals were put together with care and blended perfectly with the voices from the chorale. Abigail Gardner, MCAS ’27, is a violinist in the orchestra. She said it took a few practices to bring the orchestra and chorale together and gave more details on how they put the setlist together. 

“The setlist is based on tradition,” Gardner said. “The previous director kind of cultivated it. The only new thing is “Adoration” by Florence Price, and the order of the last few songs was switched.”

The performance incorporated a mix of classic Christmas songs with lesser-known holiday tunes—think holiday staples like “Sleigh Ride,” but also obscure instrumental compositions like “This Endris Night.” 

The concert’s location in Trinity Chapel gave it a spiritual feel, especially when paired with carols like “We Three Kings.” People were encouraged to sing along to the songs they knew, and for the most popular tunes, lyrics were provided in the program.

The concert was also an opportunity to send off some of Chorale’s graduating seniors, who were wearing white lapels to signify their departure. The rest of the performers were dressed in black attire, creating a classy contrast between the two groups.

Haley Graves, MCAS ’24, is a senior member of Chorale as well as the Chamber Singers—a subsection of the larger Chorale group. She elaborated on the different sections within the Chamber Singers.

“Women are split into sopranos and altos,” Graves said. “Sopranos sing the higher notes and then altos sing the lower notes when the section is split. Men are split into tenors and basses, so tenors are the higher range and basses are the lower range.”

Beyond the musical mechanics of the concert, Wittstruck and the students made strides to include the audience in the performance. 

At one point, Wittstruck invited the kids in the audience to flood the aisle and dance along to a song from The Nutcracker. Wittstruck’s daughter, Essie, was among the children who pranced through the aisles, capturing the holiday spirit and community atmosphere of the concert.

From the popular Nutcracker to more somber holiday hymns like “Hallelujah,” the concert included something for everyone.

“The entire [setlist] is just fun to sing,” Graves said. “Especially the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus when all the alumni come up … it’s just a really fun energy.”

For the performance of “Hallelujah,” Chorale alumni crowded the stage for a yearly tradition where old members are invited to come up and sing along with current Chorale members. It’s a sweet way to connect generations of BC and Chorale alumni. 

Chorale and the orchestra rounded out the performance with a big spectacle for their rendition of “Silent Night.” The lights mysteriously dimmed as the members of Chorale lined the aisles and held candles. Their melodic voices came together in perfect harmony to put on a wintry display of the classic holiday tune.

December 3, 2023