State College Choral Society offers musical gift to the community

The State College Choral Society has about 125 members who rehearse each Monday night.
The State College Choral Society has about 125 members who rehearse each Monday night. Photo provided

As part of its 67th season, the State College Choral Society will present a free Christmas concert as a gift to the community. Musicians will perform “Glory” on Dec. 12 at Grace Lutheran Church in State College.

Now in his 17th year as music director, Russ Shelley has created a stirring and dramatic concert schedule for the ensemble’s 2015-2016 concert season, “Honor, Glory and Remembrance.”

“Glory” will feature the inaugural performance of a new program, “Christmas with the Choral Society.” The SCCS will join guest instrumentalists and members of local school choirs in renditions of favorite traditional Christmas carols and holiday songs with a community carol-sing concluding the one-hour concert.

With approximately 125 members, the SCCS is the largest choral group to perform a classical repertoire in central Pennsylvania. Vocalists from across the region gather in State College each Monday night to prepare for winter and spring concerts and occasional December Messiah performances that benefit local charities.

Reaching out to schools, finding a concert sponsor, confirming a venue, hiring instrumentalists, establishing and implementing a publicity plan and choosing repertoire were all part of the planning process for this concert.

“We were looking for a capstone community event to include in our next five seasons and decided a community Christmas concert would meet the criteria we had established,” Shelley said.

Joining the SCCS will be the State College Area High School Chamber Choir, conducted by Erik Clayton, and the Mount Nittany Middle School Clef Hangers Chamber Choir, conducted by Alison Geesey. In addition, the SCCS has contracted with nine instrumentalists who will provide accompaniment for the evening’s music. Featured will be pianist John Bukowski, organist Mark Ferraguto, Gretchen Lee on fiddle, Alex Rothstein on saxophone, Neal Holter on bass and the Penn State Graduate Brass.

The first part of the concert includes familiar and new music by Shawn Kirchner, a Los Angeles-based composer and arranger, ranging from classical through bluegrass to jazz. Kirchner’s arrangements included in the program are “The Holly & the Ivy,” “Who Am I, O Child of Wonder?,” “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” “Brightest and Best,” “Silent Night” and “Joy to the World.” The sing-along includes standard holiday favorites from “Frosty the Snowman” to “Silent Night.”

“Our goal is to provide something each audience member can identify with, and a community-based concert where performers and audience experience a meaningful evening of singing and sharing,” Shelley said.

The concert is the first in the long-range planning of a five-year cycle of Christmas concerts by the SCCS.

“We wanted to offer a true Christmas concert with traditional Christmas repertoire and an audience sing-along of Christmas carols to end the concert,” said Thomas Penkala, general manager of the SCCS.

This concert is offered as a free gift to the community, with no tickets required. In lieu of admission, audience members are invited to bring a canned good or non-perishable food item to the event to benefit the State College Area Food Bank, further extending the giving of Christmas to the community. This new program is sponsored by The Red Oak Foundation.

“We are fortunate to have generous concert support from The Red Oak Foundation and to be able to offer the concert free of charge for the community,” Penkala said. “It is our hope that this will be a family event and a great way to kick off the holiday season. We hope this will become a family tradition on a yearly basis.”


  • What: State College Choral Society holiday concert
  • When: 3 p.m. Dec. 12
  • Where: Grace Lutheran Church, 205 S. Garner St., State College
  • Info: www.scchoral society.org