Adapting Traditions for a Virtual Holiday Season

In a year when choruses and audiences are not able to gather in concert venues for some of their most beloved and time-honored traditions, many groups are coming up with new ways to celebrate the season.

Two musically distinct Philadelphia-area choruses with a penchant for collaboration will jointly produce a masked and distanced outdoor performance video entitled Christmas together in a time of separation (pictured above). Bucks County Choral Society and Philadelphia Heritage Chorale had planned a joint concert for June 2021 but the pandemic may prevent that from happening. The choruses met in October to film the project and talk to each other about how their communities are handling the pandemic. The film will be broadcast on Philadelphia's local PBS station on December 23 and 24, and available online thereafter for a limited time.

Over 30 choruses from the metropolitan Atlanta area are joining together to create Georgia’s Home for the Holidays, a 35-day series of seasonal musical videos shared through social media channels. Organized by the Atlanta Master Chorale, the Michael O’Neal Singers, and the Georgia Symphony Orchestra and Chorus, the event runs from the day after Thanksgiving and continuing to December 31.

There is arguably no Christmas tradition in classical music more well-known than Handel's ubiquitous 1741 oratorio, Messiah. Boston's Handel and Haydn Society (H+H), the oldest continually performing arts organization in the United States, is keeping its own tradition of performing this storied work alive this season. The ensemble performed the work's famous "Halleluah" chorus in its first-ever performance in 1815, and gave the American premiere of the full Messiah in 1818; now in 2020, H+H will perform Messiah for the 167th consecutive year, premiering virtually on December 20 and available to stream throughout the holiday season. Another storied symphonic chorus, Baltimore Choral Arts, produced a unique hybrid rendition of Messiah's "Hallelujah" chorus featuring an international virtual choir with a live, masked orchestra and professional core of singers, bringing together over 250 singers in all.

Ahead of their streamed concert on December 19, Thomas Circle Singers in Washington DC will send advance ticket holders a digital holiday booklet including carols for a sing-along as well as some favorite Christmas cookie recipes. The group has also invited friends from a local distillery to share some holiday cocktail recipes. It will be a tall order for the Bach Society of St. Louis to top its live Christmas Candlelight Concert—hailed by BBC Music Magazine as one of the Top 20 Live Christmas Events in North America—so this year the chorus has created some VIP experiences for its virtual December 23 performance, including options such as a live pre-show event with music director Dennis Sparger and a goodie box of champagne and hors d’oeuvres delivered to attendees’ doorsteps.

Jacksonville Children's Chorus’s annual The Cool Side of Yuletide show has been transformed into a drive-in holiday concert. Held at the Jacksonville Fairgrounds on December 19, gates open early and attendees will be treated to holiday cartoons in their vehicles before this performance created to evoke the screening of a holiday film.

Choruses are also offering virtual concerts that debut at a specific time, and then remain available to view for a longer window during the season. Santa Fe Desert Chorale is curating a program that mixes performances by soloists, duets, quartets, and the full ensemble that will begin on December 12 and be accessible through Christmas Day. New Jersey’s Ars Musica Chorale has a program combining virtual and small-group, in-person performances with readings and special guests, running December 12-31.

Cantus, based in the Twin Cities, is presenting a concert on December 11-13 & 18-20 that invokes tradition while speaking to this moment. Lessons and Carols for Our Time uses the King’s College Choir’s famous Christmas Eve program as a foundation and puts a contemporary spin on it, incorporating poetry and modern works alongside classic carols and Franz Biebl’s “Ave Maria,” the ensemble’s signature holiday number.

Find More Holiday Events This December

So many choruses are finding a way to spread holiday cheer even while singers and concertgoers are physically apart this December, and we can't feature nearly all of them here. Chorus America members are posting their online holiday events on our Calendar and submitting to our Member News page. Visit these pages to discover more performances being presented in the Chorus America community.

For this unique season, Chorus America has also created a featured listing of online holiday events that we are advertising through a campaign on Facebook, in addition to our standard communications channels. Any chorus can advertise its event through this campaign. See our information page for more details.