Christmas season always comes with some tasteful concerts – and our first this year was to take in the Consensus Vocal Ensemble concert at the United Congregational Church this afternoon.  ( Wilma and I know all the performers in the vocal group – Dan and Virginia Rohr, Laurie and Sonya Chamberlain, Brian and Jenny Stubbs, Jenny and Dave Pelowski, and Grace Forbord – and heard satisfying afternoon of vocal music with Christmas flavoring in it.  To add to the pleasure, harpist Andrea Stern ( was in the house to provide a delightful touch with her Lyon and Healy harp.

We hear Benjamin Britten’s CEREMONY OF CAROLS every year, but usually it is from a boys’ choir or maybe an SSA choir.  We started by hearing these nine mixed voices and the harp present a fine rendition of precise touch, all the way from the well-known sections such WOLCUM YULE and DEO GRACIAS to the lesser known sections.  Harpist Andrea Stern and her harp accompanied the work with practiced eloquence – she mentioned to the audience that she had played this piece many times, but usually with a director, and that today’s version was so unique and satisfying for her.  The voices and the harp combined into 25 minutes of very nice musical moments to a full house.

The singers took a break following the Britten piece, turning the concert over to Andrea Stern.  She presented two harp pieces that fit the tenor of the concert; she started with a delicate and clear arrangement of IN THE BLEAK MIDWINTER and then her own arrangement of GOD REST YE MERRY GENTLEMEN that had its share of harp sounds and some playful rhythms.  Andrea appeared this past summer as part of the Lakes Area Music Festival – she mentioned after the concert how much she enjoyed both times, and that she hopes to come back to Brainerd often.

The second half of the concert added even more gems to the collection of musical jewels – among them were NOEL NOUVELET (Sing We all of Christmas, Sing We all Noel), an absolutely lacy version of CAROL OF THE BELLS and an energetic DING DONG MERRILY ON HIGH.  Humor arose in a PDQ BACH song GOOD KING KONG, and our hearts heard the familiar AWAY IN A MANGER, I’LL BE HOME FOR CHRISTMAS, and Mozart’s ADORAMUS TE.  I was not familiar with SWEET WAS THE SONG, but I can now add that one to my list of Christmas songs that I hope to hear again.

So what a nice afternoon of harp, of clean vocal blending, and good programming…. All topped off with some cider, cookies and visiting with the performers and the full house of an audience.