Making spirits bright: Christmas at Wooddale concert set for another exciting year

An orchestra and choir performs during last year’s Christmas at Wooddale concert. (Submitted photo by Jeffrey Towey)
An orchestra and choir performs during last year’s Christmas at Wooddale concert. (Submitted photo by Jeffrey Towey)
By Sean Miner
Sun Current Newspapers

With the weather finally matching the calendar, performers and congregants alike are looking forward to the annual Christmas at Wooddale Concert at Wooddale Church in Eden Prairie.

The show, running around 90 minutes, is slated for two shows Dec. 10 and 11. A huge choir anchors the concert, between 80-odd voices from the church and surrounding area, 40 more singers from Crown College’s Kammerchor and a featured soloist, soprano and former Miss America Dorothy Benham.

Add a full orchestra and, new this year, a set of seven modern dancers trained and choreographed by Jolene Konkel, and it’s not a surprise that tickets are hard to come by.

At the helm is Dave Donelson, artistic director and conductor, for his second year, though the annual concert stretches back far more years than two.

“It’s a chance to be together as friends and family and really enjoy the season,” said Donelson, “and come away from the busyness of the season to spend about an hour and a half enjoying some really fun music.”

According to him, the performance is roughly split into two halves – the first, joyous, and the second, more reverent.

“We’re going to be performing some fun Christmas carols and things like that,” said Donelson of the first segment. “After that, it takes a bit more of a serious turn, where we really focus on the true meaning of Christmas and the nativity of Christ.

“It’s kind of two programs in one, which really makes it a lot of fun,” added Donelson.

That first segment ties in especially well with the show’s theme, said Donelson.

“The theme is ‘making spirits bright,’” Donelson said. “So we have built the program off of that tiny little phrase from ‘Jingle Bells.’ In fact, ‘Jingle Bells’ is one of the pieces – a really great arrangement of it.”

He said that the musicians and singers have been practicing since September. He, however, began picking titles for this year’s concert basically after last year’s shows ended.

Involving Benham was something more of a chance happening.

‘I’ve known of Dorothy for years – she does a lot of singing here in the Twin Cities, as well as out in California,” said Donelson. “Our paths crossed at one point earlier this year, and I kept her in mind. So, I called her up, and she was just really thrilled to be able to sing with us this year.”

Benham was named both Miss Minnesota and Miss America in 1977, and Donelson noted that she still makes Minnesota her home.

“She’s a beautiful soprano. Just beautiful,” said Donelson.

He was also excited about the involvement of the dancers, choreographed by a former collaborator of his.

“We do have dancers that have been choreographed to participate in the opening number, which is called ‘Carol to the King,’” said Donelson. “That one’s always very exciting.”

John Palmer, a member of the church’s congregation and bass section in its choir, noted that the show was coming together well in rehearsal.

He credited Donelson for his touch on the production.

“He’s done some interesting things with the design of Christmas at Wooddale,” said Palmer. “Last year was a really special one.”

Palmer noted that, of the 3,000 seats available between the two showings, ticket sales had exceeded 2,500.

“The Sunday performance is essentially sold out, but we have some left for Saturday night,” said Donelson. “We’re thrilled with the response we’ve had for this. Just thrilled.”

Contact Sean Miner at [email protected]