The Okaloosa Chamber Singers’ “Carols and Candlelight” concerts last weekend proved one of the season’s loveliest Christmas gifts. A sumptuous buffet of classical and popular seasonal tunes, the performances let audiences feast on a bounty for the ear and soul, and participate in several beloved and familiar selections.


The Okaloosa Chamber Singers’ “Carols and Candlelight” concerts last weekend proved one of the season’s loveliest Christmas gifts. A sumptuous buffet of classical and popular seasonal tunes, the performances let audiences feast on a bounty for the ear and soul, and participate in several beloved and familiar selections.



Several attendees at both concerts praised director Marilyn Overturf afterward for what they felt was the chamber singers’ best concert ever, and I concur.



A seven-piece orchestra, accompanied by an organ, piano and even congas on several pieces of the evening’s program, joined the 21-voice ensemble, enhancing the performances’ beauty and depth.



“I’ve been real proud of this little group,” Overturf said after the Friday and Sunday concerts in Fort Walton Beach and DeFuniak Springs.



The concert’s first half featured selections from the Renaissance, Romantic and Classical periods highlighted by Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cantata No. 140, “Wachet Auf, Ruft Uns die Stimme” (Awaken, the Voice Calls). The piece, first performed more than 280 years ago in Leipzig, displayed the choir’s talents and featured several of its soloists as well as the small orchestra.



The concert’s second half exercised the ensemble’s versatility, and offered opportunities for the audience to join in, including singing along to one of two Mark Hayes arrangements. His interpretation of the solemn “Silent Night, Holy Night” featured glorious vocals and instrumentals, and nearly the full house’s voices.



The Chamber Singers even got a little jiggy, interjecting a bit of Caribbean riddum into “The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy.” The jazzy Hayes arrangement of “Let it Snow!” and Sammy Cahn and Jules Styne’s classic “The Christmas Waltz” were fresh interpretations of popular favorites. All too soon, the audience rose to troll the ancient Yuletide carol as we joined the Chamber Singers in “Deck the Hall,” the program’s last number.



There’s no denying the Okaloosa Chamber Singers’ technical expertise. Under Overturf’s direction, they could have easily tackled an evening of purely classical choral music and still been delightful. But the inclusion of familiar, popular holiday standards and the opportunity to share the vocal duties endeared the ensemble to its audiences and left us hungry for more.



Overturf said she has not had the chance to contemplate a Chamber Singers spring concert, but that hasn’t stopped her from mulling over some ideas.



“We’re talking about doing a festival of hymns, which is a nice program. But we don’t have anything in concrete. One of my singers is also thinking it would be fun to do an a capella program. I always get suggestions from my singers.”



Until then, here’s a heartfelt “thank you” for this special Christmas gift from the Okaloosa Chamber Singers.



And I have at least two more presents to unwrap: Christmas concerts from the Crestview High School on Dec. 13 and Schola Cantorum on Dec. 17.



Contact News Bulletin Arts & Entertainment Editor Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or brianh@crestviewbulletin.com. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.