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A gospel kind of Christmas

"Glory Hallelujah to the Newborn King" —  the Rogue Valley Chorale's contribution to the holiday concert season — will feature the 100-voice choir directed by Laurie Anne Hunter, along with soloists Britney Simpson and Bishop Mayfield and keyboard player Brent Olstad and percussionist Reed Bentley.

The choir plans to open the concert with a rousing arrangement of the Italian hit song "Gloria," setting the stage for a high-energy show that also will include gospel-style arrangements of such favorite carols as "Do You Hear What I Hear?" "Silent Night" and "Deck the Halls."

Performances are set for 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 3, and 3 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 4, at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. Tickets are $10 or $20, $5 for students and children, and can be purchased online at craterian.org, at the box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., or by calling 541-779-3000.

Rogue Valley Chorale has partnered with ACCESS to gather canned goods to assist families in need during the holiday season. Ticket holders who bring five cans of food to donate will receive a complimentary voucher that can be redeemed for a free ticket to the Chorale's April concert. See www.roguevalleychorale.org for information.

Simpson and Mayfield will add their powerful voices to such songs as "Ain’t Dat a Rockin’ All Night," arranged by Paul Carey; "Last Month of the Year" by Vera Hall and "Mary Had a Baby" by Lloyd Larson.

A highlight of the show is Ruth Morris Gray’s "Glory Hallelujah to the Newborn King," a raise-the-rafters spiritual. The program will culminate with "Have You Seen That Child?" arranged by Cliff Duren — with Mayfield adding improvisational embellishments for a dramatic finish.

"A few pieces are the original tunes, but most have been arranged specifically for choir," Hunter says. "It's a process of writing a harmony for the choir and one for the soloist. Traditional gospel choirs usually don't read music. The members have learned their parts by rote. It's the arrangers that come along and write it all down. So there's what the choir will sing and what the soloist will sing. The beauty of it is that the soloists can perform what's written for them, but their real joy comes when they add to it, thus giving the music its heart."

Hunter, inspired by the holiday season, thought of presenting something joyful, happy and fun to get folks out to hear the Chorale. It was then that she chose gospel music and added the guest soloists and musicians.

"Gospel is completely different from the classical norm," she says. "When I saw Britney perform in 'Yeoman of the Guard' and as Dorothy in 'The Wiz' at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, I was really moved by her stage presence and her heart. She also performed last summer in a Britt Orchestra concert that featured OSF performers. Her talent goes beyond the music."

Hunter hired Mayfield sight unseen, at the recommendation of a Chorale member.

"He's also a very giving performer," Hunter says. "He adds a lot of authenticity to music's style. And the choir, inspired by the soloists and the musicians, has never sounded better. With the Hammond B3 and percussion accompaniment, the show is really coming alive."

Simpson has three seasons at OSF to her credit. Mayfield has worked as a gospel, R&B, blues and soul singer in the Rogue Valley and around the country. He will perform with the I Have a Dream band in "A Gospel Christmas" to be presented Dec. 9-10 and 16-17 at the Craterian Theater.

For more than four decades, the Rogue Valley Chorale has been part of the arts scene in Southern Oregon. Its members are singers with various backgrounds as singers, actors, music educators and those who simply love to sing.

Britney Simpson and Bishop Mayfield join Rogue Valley Chorale for a gospel-style holiday concert. Photos courtesy of Laura Rich