St. Paul's Choir School resumes in-person Christmas concerts Dec. 12, 19

CAMBRIDGE -- Even when the coronavirus prevented live performances, the students of St. Paul's Choir School found ways to share their musical gifts with the world. Now, they will once again sing before an audience for "Christmas in Harvard Square," with two live performances by St. Paul's Choir of Men and Boys taking place at St. Paul Church on Dec. 12 and 19.

Conducted by school Music Director James Kennerley, the concerts will feature the boy choristers, the professional male singers from St. Paul's Choir and the Back Bay Brass ensemble. Exploring the theme of Christmas around the world, the program will include music from a variety of countries, including Austria, France, Germany, Nigeria, the Ukraine, and the West Indies.

In keeping with the city of Cambridge's guidelines, audience members will need to wear masks and present proof of either vaccination or a negative coronavirus test.

Last year, coronavirus restrictions against large gatherings prevented the school from holding its annual Christmas concert, which would typically draw hundreds of people. Instead, they produced a filmed concert performance, which was shown online and on CatholicTV.

"This was a chance for us to sort of bring people in through the wonders of video and audio technology," Kennerley said in a Dec. 7 interview.

He said that viewers "totally loved it," because it came out at a time when community events and activities were very limited or unable to take place.

"We had a lot of people who related how much that meant to them, especially because they weren't able to do any of that in person," he said.

In some ways, Kennerley said, it was nice to record without an audience, who can sometimes create their own noise and distraction during a performance.

"There are some benefits to (doing) a studio recording rather than a live recording. I'm really pleased we did that, but also very pleased that we're back in person," he said.

He likened singing for a recording to playing a soccer or football game in an empty stadium.

"You can create a certain amount of that energy, but really there's nothing like having an in-person audience there," he said.

One new piece in the program will be "Love Came Down on Christmas," Kennerley's setting of a poem by Christina Rossetti.

While it is "relatively common" for people to write pieces for concerts, Kennerley went about it in a different way: he presented three poems to the boy choristers and let them vote on which one he would arrange.

"Normally the composer would choose the text. It's a very personal choice. But I thought it would be fun to involve them, so they really had that emotional buy-in," Kennerley said.

He also arranged his own version of "O Holy Night," which includes both the original French lyrics and the English translation.

In addition to new pieces making their premiere, there will also be audience sing-alongs and "reliable staples that everybody wants," such as "Joy to the World," Silent Night," and "Hark the Herald Angels Sing."

Kennerley noted that European boy choirs like theirs were more common in the early 20th century. Now, they are the only group in the Boston area that carries on this tradition.

"It's such a wonderful thing to see that continue and be part of that tradition. And seeing is believing with these boys. Even their parents can't believe what kind of beauty they're able to create with their voices. There really is nothing like it to get people into the Christmas spirit," he said.

"Christmas in Harvard Square" will take place at St. Paul Church on Dec. 12 and 19 at 3 p.m. Tickets are $35 for general admission, $50 for reserved seating and $70 for premium seating.

More information about "Christmas in Harvard Square," including a link to purchase tickets and a recording of last year's concert, is available at