Children from the Music Academy Sing! program charmed the audience when it joined the Choral Society for some music from John Williams's score for the movie Home Alone | Credit: Zach Mendez

This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on December 15, 2022. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox each Thursday, sign up at

In a world where things have had a habit of going wrong, we have special appreciation when things seem to go very right. And so it went at the Santa Barbara Choral Society’s eighth annual “Hallelujah Project” at the Lobero on Saturday night. Even the rain gods cooperated, lending a splash of wet, wintry atmosphere outside.

In the serious musical center of the variety show was JS Bach’s Cantata 191, “Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory to God in the Highest)” a Christmas opus written in 1742, and with material that later appeared in Bach’s legendary Mass in B minor. It is a profound expression of the religious raison d’être of the season, beautifully and fully rendered by the Jo Anne Wasserman-directed chorus and orchestra, right up to the triumphant finale.

Jo Anne Wasserman, Artistic Director/Conductor is enjoying her 30th season with The Choral Society. The Halleljuah Concert represents the start of the organization’s 75th anniversary | Credit: Zach Mendez

Some of us could have used twice as much Bach in the program, but the decisive diversity of the “Project’s” sampler plate concept is a strong one, a keeper. Through this format, younger ears and those beyond classical leanings get to experience a variety of musical idioms and taste treats, in short, digestible forms. We savored a plate of carols in different arrangements for chorus and orchestra, token Hanukkah songs, and the comfy chair melodies of John Williams’s feel-good serenades from Home Alone. The namesake morsel of Handel’s “Hallelujah” chorus was performed with guest “layman” conductor Steve Hammer’s swaying arms assiduously keeping the baton-guided beat.
The Music Academy’s admirable youth vocal project Sing! made another appearance on the stage, following its role in Santa Barbara Symphony’s chorally epic Carmina Burana this fall.
Speaking of said Academy, the institution’s dynamic head Scott Reed did the narrator/reader honors in the traditional narration/Phillip Lane score for Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” arriving prepared, pajama-ed and with his adorable red-haired daughter Ruby on his lap. She gave us the most spontaneous moment of the night when, deep into the book, she restlessly helped dad by turning the page prematurely, no doubt befuddled by his slow, cue-triggered reading. She also seemed to take great delight in the ritual Santa sighting in the house.

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Academy Encore

In other Music Academy news, the enterprise’s grand 75th anniversary year comes to a close on a high, cello-phonic note. The Alumni All-Star Cello Choir caps off the new three-concert Mariposa Series, Saturday night in Lehmann Hall, up in the Academy’s Montecito campus. Hear eight expert cellists, with Academy alum status, taking on music of Heitor Villa-Lobos, Astor Piazzolla and Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons, in this last huzzah for the Academy’s milestone year.   

Checking the Seasonal List, Thrice

This weekend brings a triple blast of Christmas-timed performances to Santa Barbara stages from three distinct religio-cultural angles. For the Folk Orchestra of Santa Barbara, intrepidly led by director and multipurpose musician Adam Phillips, the season offers a ripe opportunity to adapt old favorites and lesser-known music through his expandable group’s unique folk orchestral filter. Check them out in the intimate environments of the Presidio Chapel on Saturday night (Dec. 17) and the Marjorie Luke Theatre on Sunday afternoon (Dec. 18).

Wend your way to the blissfully remote and resonant Christ the King, Chapel for the Quire of Voyces’ renewed annual concert tradition, the “Mysteries of Christmas,” on Saturday and Sunday afternoon (Dec. 17-18). This Christmas concert model reliably keeps the Christ in Christmas music see full story here.

For the more secularly-inclined, Christ has left the building — being the Lobero Theatre this weekend — when the Christmas Revels circus comes to town (pardon the metaphor mixology). Revels, a lovable and vintage-waxing tradition of music, dance, and storytelling now up to its 15th annual edition, feeds into the ancient celebration of winter solstice in Europe and 19th century America. Geo-cultural themes change each year: this year’s point of reference goes back to the British Isles, for a program dubbed “A Scottish Celebration of the Winter Solstice.”

Commanding his own corner of the weekend’s yuletide calendar, pure-voiced pop-legend Johnny Mathis makes his way back to the Chumash Casino on Friday night, for one of his periodic Santa Ynez shows. Mathis, now 87 and still in fine vocal fettle, has been synonymous with Christmas repertoire going back to his 1958 album Merry Christmas, with a special ownership of “I’ll be Home for Christmas.”  

Compared to the Delta variant-downed scarcity of live Christmas music a year ago, this season’s blur of options is a very happy problem, indeed.

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