Christmas Concert by Vocal Arts Ensemble

— OLSON-LARSEN GALLERIES presents dsmArts —

Above: Des Moines Vocal Arts Ensemble presents a Christmas concert Sunday afternoon at St. Augustin Church.

By Michael Morain

When Des Moines Vocal Arts Ensemble lifts its 40-some voices to the rafters at St. Augustin Church this Sunday, Dec. 17, even their simplest harmonies may sound like a special effect. These days, it’s rare to hear so many people agree.

At their rehearsal Monday night, the ebullient director Timothy McMillin led the choir of auditioned volunteers through the trickier numbers in a Christmas program that includes the world premiere of an arrangement of “O magnum mysterium” by Kansas City composer Andrea Ramsey. The group also tuned up dissonant chords in a jazzy version of “Jingle Bells” and chewed through the Creole text in a rhythmic Haitian carol.

These songs are like Christmas cookies: hours of work go into a moment of satisfaction.

“But now we’re into the lushness,” McMillin said, turning to Vijay Singh’s “A Glimpse of Snow and Evergreen” (which you can find on YouTube). It’s the kind of legato number that resonates in a lofty sanctuary like St. Augustin’s, and the choir built up its layers like a snowdrift.

It reminded me of a poem by Lola Haskins, who wrote that to sing or play “pianissimo” doesn’t just mean to whisper: “It’s to carry sweet words to the old woman in the last dark row who cannot hear anything else, and to lay them across her lap like a shawl.”

Christmas with Vocal Arts” starts at 4 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 17, at St. Augustin Church, 545 42nd St., following a 3:15 p.m. pre-concert talk with composer Andrea Ramsey. $18 in advance, $20 at the door, and $5 for students.

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