Cathedral Christmas concert continues tradition
Latest News | December 14, 2015
From city to city, different areas celebrate the holiday spirit in a variety of ways. In St. Joseph, one continuing tradition is the combination of brass instruments with a swelling chorus of voices.
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By Andrew Gaug | St. Joseph News-Press
The annual “Christmas at the Cathedral” show has become a staple in the area as much as seeing the lights in Krug Park (with the optional honking of the car horn in the tunnel), checking out Christmas house light shows and visiting relatives.
Since 2007, the St. Joseph Community Chorus and the acclaimed Fountain City Brass
Band have come together to celebrate the holidays. They will do it again at 3 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 13, and at 7:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 14.
The idea began as something different for the chorus, which used to celebrate the holidays in a more subdued manner.
“We usually do a very sacred performance, but this year will be different. With the band this year, I think it’d be great for anyone,” Frank Thomas, former director of the Community Chorus, told the St. Joseph News-Press in 2007.
He was right. In its eighth year, the show is bigger, filling the space of the Cathedral of St. Joseph with a mix of traditional holiday songs and originals.
“It is a powerhouse. If you can imagine all of the feelings that you’re feeling in one room and hearing those sounds at the same time, that’s kind of what is to hear Fountain City and the Community Chorus performing simultaneously,” Dr. Elise Hepworth, St. Joseph Community Chorus director, says.
It’s a formula that shouldn’t necessarily work. The combination of vocals and horns in a huge space, with the sound echoing, should have been enough to sink it after one performance.
“It’s conceivable that one trombone can drown out a choir and about 30 to 35 people who can play soft enough to make the collaboration — it’s just one of those moments when all the music seems to come together,” Thomas said in a previous interview.
But it worked and continues to get better every year. Hepworth, who will lead her first “Christmas at the Cathedral” concert this year, says there’s a sonic aura to the church that can’t be beat.
“I think it adds to the mystery of the music. I think it adds to the ambiance, adds to the grandeur of the performance,” she says.
When the chorus rehearses in the Cathedral, there’s a seven-second delay from when the members sing to it reaching their ears. Sometimes, it’s haunting. Other times, like when it’s combined with the Brass Band, it’s glorious.
During the past seven years, there have been some minor setbacks with the shows, like the ice storm of 2007. But there’s never been any doubt whether or not the show will go on.
Operating as a constantly transforming holiday presentation, the show’s malleability has become one of its biggest strengths.
“The literature is always changing, and we find new things that we think are going to work between us and we give it a shot,” Lee Harrelson, founder of the Fountain City Brass Band, said in a previous interview.
To take over the reins of the concert is an extreme privilege, Hepworth says.
“The anticipation of seeing all the faces in the crowd and seeing the performers on stage and knowing I have a part in bringing that together is overwhelming,” she says.
For the group, this is their rock show. This is the ultimate experience.
“It’s like a rock band playing in an arena. It’s a great place to sing, and I love the huge crowds that we always have every year,” Hepworth says.
Tickets for the concert are available at the door, and prices are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors and $5 for students. Visit for more information.