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American Festival Chorus brings Christmas to Kamas

Concert comes to the DeJoria Center

Dr. Craig Jessop, the artistic director of the Logan-based American Festival Chorus & Orchestra, takes his cue from the late bandleader Glenn Miller when programing Christmas concerts.

“He had a saying — ‘Something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue’ — and that’s what we try to do,” Jessop said during an interview with The Park Record. “We try to have something for everyone.”

The audience will hear those elements when the American Festival Chorus & Orchestra brings its Christmas concert to the DeJoria Center, at 7:30 p.m., on Monday, Dec. 5.

“Every year, we do something new,” Jessop said. “This year, we commissioned a new opener, ‘Bringing the World Our King,’ by Stephen Nelson, the music director and arranger for Gentri.”

Gentri, who will also open the DeJoria Concert, is comprised of three tenors, Brad Robins, Casey Elliott and Bradley Quinn Lever, and has performed with Idina Menzel and Journey.

“Stephen has written music for choir, orchestra, handbell choir and children’s choir,” said Jessop, the former director for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. “It’s really a charming piece.”

Accompanying the chorus and orchestra will be the Cache Children’s Choir and the Westminster Handbell Choir from the Presbyterian Church in Logan.

“We will also give an offering of something old, familiar, warm and fuzzy where everyone can sit back and relax,” Jessop said. “I always do ‘White Christmas’ and ‘Silent Night’ because those are two of my favorites.”

“Silent Night” will feature Michael Christiansen, emeritus professor of guitar at USU.

“We’ll tell the story about ‘Silent Night’ and how they had to premier the new hymn on guitar after the organ broke down in Austria,” Jessop said. “We’ll recreate that first performance.”

The concert will also feature other works such as “Spirit of the Season” from “The Polar Express.”

“That’s a song I did with the Tab Choir many years ago and haven’t done since,” Jessop said.

Christmas and holiday music fills a special place in Jessop’s heart.

“I’ve been involved in making music from the time I was a boy, specifically in choral music, even before my Tab Choir years, and there is something about the Christmas season that the instrument of a choir is the perfect vehicle to sing those familiar carols that mingle with the traditions that people have in their own lives and families,” he said.
“There is something to me that is most intimate about the human voice. Unlike an instrumental ensemble, we can project a lyric in a marriage of words and music. The sound of the human voice makes this so personal, and for me, it becomes an infectious performance medium.”

Jessop, who is also the Dean of USU’s Cain College of Fine Arts, has honed his method of selecting the songs for Christmas concerts over the years.

“I’ve done these types of concerts for so long, including my days with the Air Force Singing Sergeants and the Air Force Band, that I’ve come up with a formula that has been successful,” he said. “And [in the case of Gentri], I think it helps with the variety to have a guest artist with us in the show, because I think an hour and a half with the same choral orchestral sound can become a little mundane after a certain point. ”

Jessop also goes as a far as to not sequence songs in the same key too close to each other, especially back-to-back.

“It’s a subliminal thing and most people wouldn’t be aware about it, but there can become a certain sameness of color and awareness,” he said.

Jessop formed the American Festival Chorus & Orchestra, featuring 220 singers and 65 musicians, when he started at Utah State University in 2008.

Singers are comprised of both community singers and college students.

“The American Festival Orchestra itself is formally organized as a nonprofit and we have a board of directors,” he said. “It’s a community outreach program, but we also have a memo agreement with the University and also offer this as a class for credit.”

The group made its DeJoria Center debut during the venue’s grand opening performance in October 2015.

“I love the venue and was really impressed at what they did,” Jessop said. “It is designed very smartly in that it’s a multi-purpose room and all the amenities — the lighting, sound, stage — are top drawer and anything you could ever want.”

Jessop would like to see the Christmas concert sell out.

“We would also like to aspire that this will become an annual concert, an offering of USU and the American Festival Chorus in Summit County and invite the people to come hear us in the DeJoria Center,” he said.

Utah State University’s American Festival Chorus & Orchestra, directed by Craig Jessop, will perform at 7:30 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 5, at the DeJoria Center, 970 S.R. 32, in Kamas. The concert will feature special guest Gentri. Tickets are $20 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.dejoriacenter.com or http://www.smithstix.com.


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