Local churches and a youth camp will help people celebrate Christmas over the next few weeks with several musical productions.
For the first time in their 17-year history, the Nature Coast Festival Singers will add a "Messiah Sing-along" to the group's regular Christmas concerts.
The ensemble will join with a local church choir and individuals from other Hernando and Citrus County choirs for the presentation, which will be at 3 p.m. Dec. 11 at Faith Evangelical Presbyterian Church, 200 Mount Fair Ave., Brooksville.
The Nature Coast Festival Singers were founded in 1994 by Richard Desautels of Spring Hill for the purpose of singing Handel's oratorio at Christmas. Because of this year's special presentation, the group's regular concert series will feature other composers, with only the Hallelujah chorus from The Messiah.
Sandy Kaliscak has been president of the Festival Singers for nine years.
"A little over a year ago, Stephanie Sager (the director of Faith Presbyterian's choir) contacted our director about doing the full Christmas Messiah in conjunction with Faith Presbyterian," Kaliscak said. "The board met with her early this fall to make the plans final. The Nature Coast Festival Singers' charter calls for promoting sacred and classical music in the Nature Coast. We are hoping that this concert will further that goal."
At the meeting, it was decided that people from other church choirs and from the community could sing along, as long as they would agree to attend both rehearsals before the event.
"We are hoping for around 100 singers," Sager said.
About 30 members from the Presbyterian church's choir will participate, along with about 60 members of the Festival Singers and some individuals from other choirs.
For Sager, singing with the Festival Singers will be a new experience. Previously, she sang The Messiah's soprano solos in Brandon. She has been a soloist with various opera companies and symphonies throughout the United States and has a master's degree in vocal performance from the Manhattan School of Music. She said the solos from The Messiah are challenging, but she is excited to have mastered them and to be able to present them to the community.
"I am hoping that this event becomes a yearly tradition in Hernando County, so that people all over the area from all generations have a place to go to hear this beautiful composition and to celebrate our Lord's birth," she said.
Soloists for the concert include Sager and Marlynn Shelley, sopranos; Janet Watson, alto; Gabriel Enrique, tenor, and Ken Meifert, bass.
The Festival Singers have had four conductors, with James Urbanski, a graduate of DePaul University with a master's in music education, currently serving in the position. Kathy Hackemer will accompany the concert.
The Festival Singers board decided to collect an offering at the free event. Sager suggested that the proceeds, after expenses, be dedicated to a charity, and Kaliscak suggested the Wounded Warrior Project in Jacksonville.
"This organization dedicates its efforts to giving financial and emotional support to troops who are wounded physically or emotionally, and to the families of those who have lost loved ones," Kaliscak said. "I can't imagine a more worthy cause."
In other Christmas productions:
At 7 p.m. today and 3 p.m. Sunday, First United Methodist Church of Spring Hill, 9344 Spring Hill Drive, Spring Hill, will present the Christmas cantata Wondrous Gift.
The program by the chancel choir, children's choir, drama team and orchestra will emphasize that Christmas is about giving.
"It reinforces that the greatest gift of all is the gift of Jesus Christ, and the best gift we can give is, as Christina Rossetti has said in her poetry, 'What can I give him? Give him my heart,' " says a news release for the event.
The musical will include carols, such as O Little Town of Bethlehem; O Come, All Ye Faithful; The Little Drummer Boy, and Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, as well as newer musical numbers emphasizing the perfect gifts to give at Christmas.
No tickets are required; an offering will be collected. Call (352) 683-2600.
Word of Life Fellowship, 13247 Word of Life Drive, Hudson, is presenting Sights and Sounds of Christmas: The Most Wonderful Time of the Year today and Sunday, and then Wednesday through Dec. 11.
"Since 1998 (the production) has been thrilling audiences of all ages," said the program's director, Rich Andrews. "(The audience) will experience the most wonderful time of the year with incredible costuming, lighting, special effects and new songs, like Feliz Navidad and the Raggedy Ann doll's rendition of Santa Claus is Coming to Town. This year's production is better than ever."
Tickets range from $6 for children through $28 for adults. Group, senior and student rates are available. Lunch and dinner meals are available for purchase. Call toll-free 1-877-412-8687 or visit gospelproductions.wol.org.
At 6 p.m. Dec. 18, the Brooksville Wesleyan Church choir and drama team will present the musical O Holy Night in its new facility at 22319 Cortez Blvd., Brooksville.
"The much-loved and familiar Christmas carol is the basis for our Christmas musical this year," said the Rev. Raymond Phaup, minister of music.
The program features familiar carols sung by the choir and seven characters who will deliver monologues. Joseph and Mary share their thoughts about the event that would so impact them. Old Testament prophets recount their words in prophesying about the event. The musical closes with O Come, All Ye Faithful.
"The musical seeks to remind us of that night 2,000 years ago, when Jesus came as a tiny baby to become the savior of the world," Phaup said. "My hope is that all in attendance will be reminded of the events of that holy night, and if they have never made a commitment to Jesus, that this will be the time that commitment is made."
Call (352) 799-3066.