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Christmas Cantata tradition continues in Denzil, Kerrobert and Luseland

Multi-community choir performs Christmas Cantata with song and handbells.

With church choirs be[coming a rarity in the villages and smaller towns of Saskatchewan, singers in Denzil, Kerrobert and Luseland have found a solution. Some 12 years ago, they formed a multi-community choir which puts on a cantata each year in a church in each of the three communities.

A cantata is a “medium-length narrative piece of music for voices with instrumental accompaniment, typically with solos, chorus and orchestra,” according to Oxford Languages. The local cantata does not include an orchestra but does include piano, guitar and handbells.

This year’s performances were Dec. 10, 11 and 13, with 29 singers, some of whom play the handbells as well. Soprano and handbell novice Thea Witzaney also sang a solo each evening.

Luseland participant Jean Halliday said bell ringers come and go, and this year they were excited to have three Denzil teens, including Thea, take up the challenge of playing. The handbell choir was a mix of veterans and novices this year.

Practices began the first week of October under the guidance of director Judy Neumeier. They performed a number of Christmas carols interspersed into the story of The Colors of Christmas, narrated by Alan Olfert and written by Lois Sieben, Marg Reiter and Jean Halliday in 2016.

Neumeier also directed the audience in song several times, motioning them to stand and join in the singing of “Joy to the World,” “Oh Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Silent Night.” Accompanists were pianist Kristin Boyle and guitarist Sheldon Reiter.

The handbells are always a draw for audience members. Halliday, a member of the handbell choir, said this year they performed “a mix of handbells, hand chimes and different techniques.”

The handbells were purchased by Susan Comly for Evesham Community Church about 10 years ago, and are lent out to other community groups, such as the cantata choir.

Most choir numbers were sung to the accompaniment of piano and guitar alone, but the bell ringers had double duty for “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Silent Night.” There were also four handbell numbers without the choir singing.

Along with Thea’s solo, the soaring crescendo in the conclusion to the handbell piece of “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” was a highlight of the night in Denzil. With a lunch following each performance, audience members were invited to stay and visit with the choir.