State College Choral Society concert marks annual ‘gift to the community’

The State College Choral Society will host its third annual Christmas Concert on Saturday the Grace Lutheran Church.
The State College Choral Society will host its third annual Christmas Concert on Saturday the Grace Lutheran Church. Photo provided

In what’s fast becoming a Centre County holiday tradition, the State College Choral Society will host its third annual Christmas Concert on Saturday at the Grace Lutheran Church. Featuring holiday hits both new and old, the free one-hour show is the perfect way to complement the candy canes and cocoa that are consumed throughout the season.

Having been performing for close to seven decades, the State College Choral Society is under the direction of Russell Shelley. An accomplished vocalist and educator, Shelley has performed all over the world and currently serves as a member of the music faculty and chair of the Department of Music at Juniata College.

“The highlight of this concert is Daniel Pinkham’s ‘Gloria in Excelsis Deo,’ for brass choir and organ,” Shelley said. “Hearing a brass ensemble with the Grace Lutheran organ is a real treat. We will also have Basque, French and Medieval carols along with a piece by Felix Mendelssohn.”

“We would like to bring the community together at Christmas time and have a chance to build memories that children and families will remember well into the future,” said Tom Penkala, the society’s general manager. “Those memories are pillars for families and will always be etched as unforgettable moments.”

Attendees are encouraged to bring along a canned good or non-perishable food item that will be donated to the State College Food Bank. As of last year, audiences have donated 1,900 pounds of food. This time around, event organizers have their eyes on hitting the one-ton mark.

“We offer this Christmas concert as a way of giving back and thanking the community for its support through the year,” said Suzanne Neely, who doubles as board chair and member of the society’s alto section. “To further extend the spirit of giving in the community, we ask audience members that attend to bring a non-perishable food item. The holidays can be very difficult for so many in our area and the demand at the food bank during this time of year is especially high.”

Combining service to those in need with a community gathering is always a winning combination, Shelley said.

“We sought to wed a joyful lighthearted concert with a meaningful community service activity, and so far, I think we’ve been able to accomplish that,” he said.

In addition to the State College Choral Society showcasing its renowned vocal chops, it will be joined by the Bellefonte Area High School Chorale as special guests.

“We have annually invited a local school group or two to be featured at the concert, to provide a performance opportunity for them to be recognized in the community, in addition to giving them exposure singing with a large adult ensemble,” Neely said. “We are excited to have the Bellefonte Area High School Chorale joining us this year. Our long-term goal is to grow the event to be able to include multiple community performance groups in the concert, while continuing to increase our audience, and food contributions, each year.”

What makes this concert both so unique and engaging for the audience is that a large section of the show will require people in the seats to participate with what’s unfolding on the stage.

“The singalong is my favorite part of the concert,” Neely said. “I have grown up singing in choirs for most of my life and for me, having brass instruments and an organ accompany Christmas carols as everyone in the room joins their voices together is magical. I hope it helps to put everyone in the spirit of the season.”

“It’s all part of the concept of sharing and points to the community emphasis we are trying to communicate,” Shelley said. “There is weight in a shared singing experience, and watching the faces of people from ages 2 to 102 sing holiday favorites is quite a kick.”

With each passing year, the concert continues to build momentum and serves as a reminder of what the season is all about.

“We are always humbled by the support and generosity of sponsorship that community members have provided to make this concert a true ‘gift to the community,’ ” Penkala said. “We are eager to maintain this concert as a tradition, and that families who, depending on size or financial situation, would never be able to partake in a Christmas Concert would be able to attend this meaningful Christmas concert free of charge.”

“Having a tradition like this concert helps to build community while further strengthening and sharing the close-knit feeling that our State College community enjoys,” Neely said. “People have different ways of celebrating the holidays with their own traditions, and we would love to be a part of that.”


  • What: Christmas with the Choral Society
  • When: 3 p.m. Saturday
  • Where: Grace Lutheran Church, 205 S. Garner St., State College
  • Info: www.scchoralsociety.org