Christmas is the season of peace and cheer. It brings back, year after year, traditions of celebration that warm hearts across the country. Nearly all of these traditions include music. The traditional carols and festive sounds of the winter season are on the radio and in our homes. They are also on college campuses throughout the country. Thousands of talented college students bring Christmas concerts, in voice and instrument, to their audiences.
This compilation of collegiate Christmas choir concerts represents some of the best singers and choirs in the country. Living near one of these campuses allows listeners to attend in person for their dose of holiday cheer. However, many of these beautiful concerts are broadcast live on radio or television. so tune in to some of the loveliest Christmas and winter music of the season!
Table of Contents
- St. Olaf College
- Northwestern Bienen School of Music
- Ithaca College
- Yale School of Music
- USC Thornton School of Music
- Penn State
- Cornell University
- Western Michigan University
- Florida State University
- Concordia University
- Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music
- Temple University
- San Francisco Conservatory
- New England Conservatory
- Belmont University
- Indiana University
- Wheaton College
- Azusa Pacific University
St. Olaf College
St. Olaf Christmas Festival
The St. Olaf College Music Department hosts some of the finest collegiate choirs in the country. “Inspired by the conviction that music is a divine gift,” the St. Olaf choirs have been building a reputation for excellence since 1893, The St. Olaf Choir, the premier a cappella 75 voice choir has been conducted by Anton Armstrong since 1990 and sets an extremely high standard in the choral arts. The St. Olaf Choir has taken 14 international tours and performed in major concert halls of Norway, France, South Korea, Australia, and many other countries.
Recently, St. Olaf Choir won two regional Emmy awards for their performance in the 950-year-old Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, Norway. Their annual Christmas choir concert is the St. Olaf Christmas Festival which combines award-winning choirs and musicians for an evening of spiritual celebration of the season. “For many people, over several generations, the celebration of the Advent – Christmas – Epiphany season begins with the annual St. Olaf Christmas Festival, a century-old tradition of the college.” The St. Olaf Christmas Festival also airs nationwide on radio and television stations.
Northwestern Bienen School of Music
A Festival of Lessons and Carols
Northwestern University’s Henry and Leigh Bienen School of Music is one of the oldest degree-granting music schools in the United States. The Bienen School of Music in Evanston, Illinois is a nationally ranked music program of “conservatory-level intensity.”
Their holiday tradition includes combining readings and music to “portray the Christmas miracle.” Their program features carol settings from medieval to modern for brass, strings, organ, and choir including works by Giovanni Gabrieli, Heinrich Schutz, Antonio Corelli, J.S. Bach, Francis Poulenc, and Vaclav Nelhybel. The Christmas program entitled, A Festival of Lessons and Carols, will be conducted by Stephen Alltop. Dr. Alltop, the director of music for Alice Millar Chapel, is a specialist in oratorio performance and has conducted over 100 oratorio and operatic masterworks.
In 2012, he was named Conductor of the Year by the Illinois Council of Orchestras for his work with the Elmhurst Symphony Orchestra. The Bienen Christmas choir concert is one of the most beautiful collegiate concerts to attend in the United States.
Winter Choral Concert
Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York is distinguished for its reputation in choral music. Their Winter Choral Concert will be performed by the Winter Choral Concert Choir, the Women’s Chorale, Chorus, and Madrigal Singers and will be conducted by Sean Linfors and Emily Preston. The Women’s Chorale, with 50 – 65 singers “has distinguished itself for its innovative programming and performs a variety of repertoire.”
The Women’s Chorale has performed on tour in Ireland, Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall, and Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall. Their CD Cantan features the compositions of Francisco Nunez. Dr. Linfors, the conductor of the Madrigal Singers, has been invited to conduct choral festivals in Nairobi, Kenya, and Jakarta, Indonesia, and recently performed David Lang’s Pulitzer Prize-winning Little Match Girl Passion, under the supervision of the composer.
The annual Winter Choral Concert at Ithaca College is a high-quality performance that will feature the works of Praetorius, Telemann, and Tormis among others.
Yale School of Music
Messiah Audience Singalong
Yale University’s Glee Club began in 1863 as an ensemble of thirteen men. Now, with eighty men and women, it presents some of the best collegiate choral music. Recently, in its 150th anniversary season, the Glee Club was praised by the New York Times as “One of the best collegiate singing ensembles and one of the most adventurous…an exciting, beautifully sung concert at Carnegie Hall.”
The Glee Club has been featured on NPR’s Weekend Edition, WQXR’s “The Choral Mix,” and BBC Radio 3’s “The Choir.” Named on its website as “one of the most traveled choruses in the world” the Glee Club has performed in every major city in the U.S. and has appeared in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa. The current conductor of the Yale Glee Club is the distinguished artist Jeffrey Douma. The Yale Glee Club presents the Messiah Audience Singalong every year in Woolsey Hall.
Together with the Yale Symphony Orchestra, the Yale Glee Club provides an audience singalong opportunity of Handel’s Messiah. Scores are available for purchase at the concert. What better way to enjoy the holiday of Christmas than to sing a baroque masterpiece with one of the best collegiate ensembles in the United States.
USC Thornton School of Music
The annual Winter Gala presented by the USC Thornton School of Music and its Choral & Sacred Music department is not a concert to miss if one has the opportunity to attend. Sounds of the Season provides an opportunity not only to hear a concert from one of the most prestigious music schools in the country but also to support musicians.
Sounds of the Season is a scholarship fundraiser that provides substantial support for Thornton student scholarships. One complimentary seat to Thornton’s Winter Gala Sounds of the Season will be given for each gift to the Thornton Scholarship Fund. The combined ensembles of Thornton School of Music have gained recognition through performances with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, Pacific Symphony, Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and multiple appearances at collegiate choral conferences and organizations.
They have toured the world frequently, most recently visiting New Zealand & Australia, China, South Korea, Bulgaria, Spain, France, Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia. At its annual Winter Gala, the USC Thornton School of Music features 250 singers and instrumentalists who ring in the season with carols and songs “in an evening of pageantry for the entire community to enjoy.
Essence of Joy: Our Gift in Song
Essence of Joy: Our Gift in Song is an annual winter event presented by the Penn State Department of Music. Begun in 1991, Essence of Joy sings sacred and secular music from the African and African American choral traditions. The choir regularly performs with other Penn State ensembles and performed the Leonard Bernstein Mass in 2013. The choir consists of undergraduate and graduate students from all academic programs at Penn State.
Essence of Joy has performed in 18 U.S. states and has been invited to perform multiple times for conferences of the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association as well as the eastern division Music Educators National Conference, the eastern division of the American Choral Directors Association among others. They have given concerts at the Schomburg Museum of Black American Culture in New York City three times and have released four CDs. Essence of Joy made its first European tour in 2001, and recent tours have taken them to South Africa, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Canada, Spain, and France.
Their 2017 performance included seasonal works which were based on familiar Christmas carols and spirituals that were ‘re-mixed’ “within the fabric of contemporary gospel music harmonies and rhythms.” They also performed the “Te Deum” by Guillaume, sung in a combination of Haitian French, French, and Latin. Their concert promises to present a “seamless expression of awe and wonder” for the Advent and Christmas seasons.
Lessons and Carols: CU Music
Cornell University is an Ivy League research university in Ithaca, New York. The choral ensembles at Cornell have a long history of excellence. Their annual Christmas choir concert, Lessons and Carols: CU Music, is an event that features both the Cornell University Chorus and Glee Club. The concert is interspersed with audience carols and traditional readings. The event will be conducted by Robert Isaacs.
Cornell University was founded in 1920 and is currently comprised of fifty-seven students. Their focus since 2003 has been to commission new works from women composers. The Chorus has performed with professional orchestras under the direction of Nadia Boulanger, Leon Botstein, and others. They have also performed on the stages of Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Kennedy Center, the Philadelphia Academy of Music, and many other venues.
Cornell has also been featured on CBS radio and appeared on PBS. They frequently perform with the Cornell Glee Club which was begun in 1868 and has its reputation for excellence. The Glee Club at Cornell has performed on Malaysian television and in the Moscow Conservatory. They have sung in over a dozen languages and traveled the world to bring their music to millions of listeners. Together, the Cornell University Chorus and Glee Club present an annual Christmas concert to vie with any collegiate concert.
Western Michigan University
A Choral Christmas
A Choral Christmas is an annual Christmas tradition at Western Michigan University. The concert features no less than 6 of the University’s choirs including the University Chorale, Collegiate Singers, and Holiday Grand Chorus, directed by Kimberly Dunn Adams; Cantus Femina, directed by Dee Gauthier; and Gold Company, directed by Greg Jasperse. Members of Campus Choir also joined the Holiday Grand Chorus for some of the numbers. The choirs at Western Michigan University have a history of excellence and high-quality music.
The University Chorale earned, in 2017, three Gold Diplomas (Collegiate, Contemporary, and Spirituals) and was the first choir from the U.S. to win the Grand Prix in the Kaunas Cantat, an international choral competition in Lithuania. The Gold Company, an award-winning vocal Jazz Ensemble at Western Michigan has graduates who lead the nation’s top collegiate vocal jazz programs.
The concert, “A Choral Christmas” is a decades-long tradition and includes almost 200 students and community members to “celebrate the love and joy of the season with familiar congregational carols, Gregorian chants, and surround-sound staging.” It also is the only holiday event at Western Michigan University that includes so many of the School of Music’s internationally-recognized choral ensembles.
The Yale Glee Club isn’t the only collegiate choir to provide an audience sing-along with Handel’s Messiah. The Oberlin Conservatory teams up with Credo to host a Messiah Sing-Along at Finney Chapel at Oberlin College and Conservatory.
Oberlin Conservatory, one of the finest music conservatories in the country, has produced beautiful choral music since it began. Awarded the prestigious National Medal of Arts, Oberlin Conservatory provides young singers and other musicians with world-class training and a first-class opportunity for advancement in their musical journeys.
Oberlin has more than 25 student ensembles and hosts over 500 concerts on campus each year. These concerts are performed by guest artists, faculty members, and student ensembles. The Messiah Sing-Along is a wonderful opportunity for those in the community to participate in the musical life at Oberlin Conservatory.
Florida State University
Seasonal Celebration Combined Choral Concert
Florida State University presents an annual Seasonal Celebration Combined Choral Concert. FSU has ten choral ensembles of which the University Singers is the premier undergraduate audition choir. In their 70 year history, the University Singers have performed with musicians such as David Willcocks, Norman Dello Joio, Billy Taylor, and the Atlanta Symphony Conductor Robert Shaw.
During the past five years, the University Singers have been invited to perform at national and regional conventions of the Music Educators National Conference and the American Choral Directors Association. Dr. Andre Thomas, director, and conductor of multiple choral ensembles at FSU was recently honored with the highest award conferred by the American Choral Directors Association. He was recognized as the association’s 2017 Robert Shaw Choral Award winner at the ACDA National Conference.
The Seasonal Celebration Combined Choral Concert at FSU brings a piece of Christmas and winter to the sunny state of Florida.
Concordia College Christmas Concerts have been a tradition since 1927. The Christmas Concert at Concordia has been growing and expanding ever since. According to Concordia’s website, in the 1940s the Forum newspaper took a survey and discovered that the Concordia Christmas Concert was the single event that attracted the greatest number of out-of-town visitors and generated the greatest economic impact on local businesses.
By 1946, three performances of the concert were held, and within six years five were required. Famous for its display and lighting, in 2009, the mural was digitally printed for the first time. The Concerts now include four choirs and a full orchestra. There are four performances in Moorhead and two in Minneapolis. The concert is broadcast locally, and every five years, the event is recorded for public and commercial television stations throughout the country. Along the way, the Christmas Concerts picked up an Emmy Award.
The conductor for the Concordia Choir, Dr. Rene Clausen has earned two Grammy awards for his recording Life and Breath: Choral Works by Rene Clausen. Join Concordia College for “the most beautiful collection of Christmas music you’ll hear during the holiday season.”
Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music
Feast of Carols
The Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music invites guests to their annual Feast of Carols which is a tradition that dates back decades. The Feast of Carols includes a variety of holiday songs which range from the classic and traditional to the contemporary. The concert is performed by members of all five choral ensembles from the CCM Choral Department.
They will be joined by the Cincinnati Children’s Choir and guest choirs from Oak Hills, Kings, and Milford High Schools for four performances. The five choral ensembles include the 32-voice Chamber Choir, CCM’s premier choral ensemble under the direction of Earl Rivers. Also included are the UC Men’s and Women’s Choruses which each consist of 100 members. The CCM Chorale, with a history of over 45 years, and the Chamber Singers are the other two choral ensembles.
The Chamber Choir, Chorale, and Cincinnati Youth Choir annually combine to present masterworks with the CCM Philharmonia and Concert Orchestras. Recent performances have featured the Mahler Symphony No. 8 and Berlioz Requiem conducted by James Levine. The Feast of Carols includes a spectacular “Fa-La-La” finale audience sing-along with the combined choirs and CCM’s Concert Orchestra.
Family Holiday Concert
The Boyer College of Music and Dance at Temple University has a reputation for exceptional choral performances. The Temple University Choirs have performed with some of Philadelphia’s most talented conductors. Together, the ensembles consist of around 200 students. Temple choirs perform both standard choral works and contemporary music from around the world.
As far back as 1967, Temple University choirs showed their excellence when their performance of Carl Orff’s Catulli Carmina with the Philadelphia Orchestra tied with Leonard Bernstein’s Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 for that year’s Grammy Award for Best Classical Choral Performance. In 2015, the Concert Choir and members of the University Singers joined The Philadelphia Orchestra and Westminster Symphonic Chorus for a four-performance run of Bernstein’s Mass under conductory Yannick Nezet-Seguin.
Temple University’s annual seasonal Family Holiday Concert features seasonal favorites and is performed by the TU Jazz Band, Symphony Orchestra, and Choirs.
San Francisco Conservatory
Holiday Choral Concert
Located only a short distance from the San Francisco Symphony and Opera House, the San Francisco Conservatory has a reputation as one of the best music conservatories in the United States. Vocal students at the San Francisco Conservatory are a talented group of young people that have the opportunity to study with an all-star faculty who have performed at the Metropolitan Opera, San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera, Paris Opera, Milan’s La Scala, and others.
Voice students at SFCM have the opportunity to attend dress rehearsals at the San Francisco Opera and also perform at the many venues around the Bay Area. Soloists are often featured at the conservatory’s many concerts which give individuals the chance to advance their abilities. The Conservatory Chorus has performed choral masterworks such as Faure’s Requiem, Vivaldi’s Gloria, and Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms.
The Chorus also performs original works by students and faculty composers. San Francisco Conservatory’s Holiday Choral Concert promises to be a reflection of the excellent training, ability, and artistry of their exceptional music students.
New England Conservatory
The New England Conservatory of Music has a high reputation for producing some of the greatest musicians in the United States. Holiday Concert. Several students at the NEC have received Gilmore Young Artist Awards among many others. Numerous faculty and alumni from NEC have won Grammys and been named Guggenheim Fellows. New England Conservatory’s annual holiday concert holds nothing back in celebrating the season with music.
NEC’s Symphonic Winds and Chamber Singers perform a wide range of holiday repertoire. Joining these ensembles will be the Navy Band Northeast, one of 11 Navy bands worldwide. Conductors for the event will be NEC’s Bill Drury and Erica Washburn. Drury has conducted orchestras at Harvard, Brown, and Brandeis universities and also many Air Force bands throughout the country. Drury has performed, as a jazz saxophonist, with Natalie Cole, the Coasters, Dave Stewart and played lead tenor sax with the Bob Curnow Big Band.
Conductor Eric Washburn has conducted NEC choirs through several live and pre-recorded broadcasts which include WICN Public Radio and WGBH Boston. The Holiday Concert at the New England Conservatory of Music is a radiant reflection of the quality of music that the conservatory produces.
Christmas at Belmont
Belmont University’s School of Music is proud of its musical diversity. With 15 vocal ensembles and 26 instrumental ensembles, Belmont can produce music to please anyone. Located in Nashville, Tennessee, Belmont University is at the end of the famous Music Row. Belmont’s faculty is recognized throughout the country and professors personally guide music students in a diverse number of focuses.
These include classical music and pop music, jazz, and contemporary music. Belmont’s faculty emphasizes a wide range of musical techniques and encourages creativity in their students. Belmont’s annual holiday concert, Christmas at Belmont, “features various School of Music ensembles that highlight the musical diversity” of their program. Christmas at Belmont is an annual Nashville tradition for those who love the music scene.
Chimes of Christmas
Chimes of Christmas is presented each year by the Grammy-nominated Singing Hoosiers along with featured performances by Jacobs School of Music ensembles. Jacobs School of Music of Indiana University has created a Bloomington tradition bringing the cheer of the season to audiences.
The Singing Hoosiers have sung in over 26 countries and have a 50-year tradition in presenting contemporary vocal performances ranging from The Great American Songbook, jazz, and Broadway. “Dazzling choreography and a fun, energetic and entertaining program that appeals to all audiences and all ages.” The Singing Hoosiers consist of around 85 student singers and instrumentalists.
They have performed with notable musicians including Sylvia McNair, Tim Noble, the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, and the Cincinnati Pops under the direction of Erich Kunzel. Other ensembles from Jacobs School of Music include NOTUS: Contemporary Vocal Ensemble, the University Singers, University Chorale, Opera Choruses, All-Campus Chorus, and the University Children’s Choir. Performed at the IU Auditorium, Chimes of Christmas consists of a repertoire of contemporary songs, favorite carols, and classical choral arrangements.
Wheaton College gives people an opportunity to celebrate Christmas in the beautiful state of Massachusetts. Their annual Christmas Festival features their Concert Choir, Women’s Choral, Men’s Glee Club, and the Wheaton Symphony Orchestra. Their 2018 concert is entitled “Blessed Son of God.”
The Wheaton College Concert Choir has often been invited to perform on concert series, at regional and national conventions, and to perform with professional ensembles. They also have performed in more unconventional locations such as soup kitchens, public lectures, and prisons. The choir’s varied experiences make them understand better the vocation of a musician. The Men’s Glee Club was one of the first vocal ensembles at Wheaton College.
The Glee Club performs a wide range of sacred and secular repertoire as well as spirituals and motets. The men recently toured China. Also performing at Wheaton’s Christmas Festival is the Women’s Chorale, a group of 60 women who have toured Europe and the British Isles. The Wheaton College Christmas Festival has delighted listeners with the songs of Christmas for many years. The concert will also be streamed in real-time on Wheaton’s website.
Azusa Pacific University
Azusa Pacific University’s School of Music presents an annual holiday season concert entitled Celebrate Christmas. More than 400 musicians join to perform favorite Christmas melodies and celebrate the birth of Christ. The concert includes Azusa Pacific’s Bel Canto Women’s Choir, a 50-voice ensemble that has traveled worldwide.
The Bel Canto Women’s Choir appears regularly at the Disneyland Resort and the Peter and Masha Plotkin Memorial Art Gallery. Bel Canto also regularly performs works commissioned by Azusa Pacific faculty. The Chamber Singers, another Azusa Pacific vocal ensemble, has competed and toured in Germany, the Czech Republic, New Zealand, Italy, and other countries. In 2018 they will be competing in France. They have performed at the Sydney Opera House, the Vatican, and St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin.
They have commissioned many works by artists such as Eric Whitacre and have collaborated with numerous artists and composers including Sydney Guillaume, Ralph Carmichael, and Ben Bram (Pentatonix). The Chamber Singers, in 2011, were selected as one of twelve ensembles to perform for the National Collegiate Choral Organization’s biannual conference in Colorado and were chosen again in the fall of 2015 in Portland, Oregon. They have taken top places in international competitions and placed second overall in the bid for the title of Choir of the World in the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod in Wales.
Also performing in Celebrate Christmas, the Azusa Pacific Men’s Chorale, has appeared at the National Day of Prayer in Washington, DC, the Los Angeles Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, A Celebration of Freedom at the Reagan Library and appears annually for the Plotkin Memorial Foundation in Orange County. The Men’s Chorale has also produced numerous custom recordings. Celebrate Christmas, combining these amazing ensembles with the melodies of Christmas, is a beautiful way to ring in the season.