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'It's that feeling of joy': Archdiocesan musicians prepare to ring in season at Cathedral Basilica

Scott Kennebeck (at left), Dianne Burpee (center) and Horst Buchholz joined Wednesday's talk show to discuss this year's Christmas at the Cathedral celebration.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

Dianne Burpee has been an active member of community choirs and parish choirs for many years, but in her experience, nothing quite compares to singing inside the Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis. Its appeal is part of what’s drawing her back to the space this weekend to participate in Christmas at the Cathedral for the 17th year in a row.

“You stand on the altar and look out at the beautiful church, the mosaics and all the people who have come to enjoy that,” the alto told host Don Marsh on Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air. “The nice thing about singing in the concerts is that we sing to people who may not have otherwise come to the cathedral [and] bring this beautiful sacred music to maybe a new audience.”

Burpee, a longtime member of the St. Louis Archdiocesan Choirs & Orchestra that will be performing, was joined by Scott Kennebeck, executive and artistic director for St. Louis Cathedral Concerts, and Horst Buchholz, director of sacred music for the cathedral, for the discussion.

Buchholz, who will conduct the choir during the seasonal celebration, said attendees can expect “a mixture of everything” over the course of the program. Kennebeck noted that the first half includes a variety of selections from Vivaldi.

“We’re doing ‘Winter’ from Vivaldi’s ‘Four Seasons,’ and then combining that with the ‘Gloria.’ So it’s going to be a great first half,” Kennebeck said. “The second half of the concert we have carols, [including] a beautiful setting of ‘What Child Is This’ by Grant Cochran with lush string setting – it’s just amazing in the space, it’s so beautiful.

“And then we have carols, the kids choir’s going to sing, we’ve got bells that’ll be ringing – it’s just going to be a great evening and afternoon of music with the two [Saturday night and Sunday afternoon] performances.”

Made up of parish choirs in the region as well as members of the core cathedral choir that sings in the space every week, the St. Louis Archdiocesan Choirs & Orchestra has been in existence for more than 20 years. Buchholz said that while it’s mainly intended as a liturgical choir for large celebrations, it’s evolved over time.

“And then the Christmas concert – and we’ve done other concerts as well – grew out of that so that people not only sing in the back of the church where they’re invisible but occasionally take the stage,” he explained. “And Scott [Kennebeck] and his team of elves [do] a marvelous job.

“People don’t know that when they come to the concert, but they really transform the cathedral into a stage. That takes a lot of effort to put that together so that the orchestra has a place to sit and the choir a place to stand.”

When asked what it is about Christmas music in particular that seems to connect with so many people, Buchholz said he thinks it comes down to one big thing: joy.

“I think it’s that feeling of joy that really draws people into the music,” he said, “and you can hear that in a lot of these carols.”

Related Event
What: Christmas at the Cathedral
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, December 1, and 2:30 p.m. Sunday, December 2, 2018
Where: Cathedral Basilica of St. Louis (4431 Lindell Boulevard, St. Louis, MO 63108)

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex HeuerEvie HemphillLara Hamdan and Xandra Ellin give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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