Combined Choirs 2017 photo

Jim Gossler directs a processional for last year's concert.

Members of the Morganton Combined Choirs group are getting ready to spread holiday spirit with the annual concert that has become a beloved community tradition.

The 65th annual Combined Choirs concert will take place at 5 p.m. Sunday in the sanctuary of First Baptist Church of Morganton. The performance will feature 53 singers from 26 churches from Burke, Caldwell, Catawba and McDowell counties singing a variety of sacred choral music, led by Jim Gossler, retired choral director from Freedom High School.

The annual concert, which is free to attend, fills the sanctuary to capacity with people wanting to hear the sounds of the season.

“Audiences return because the event over the years has become a kickoff to the musical Christmas season of live presentations in the community, and it is a chance to hear traditional music sung by a larger choir with instruments,” Gossler said. “It is even more enjoyable for attendees to sing hymns as part of a large audience, too. ”

Robert Smith, organist and music director of First Presbyterian Church of Morganton and St. Stephens Lutheran Church of Hickory, will provide accompaniment on the organ and piano. Smith also is an adjunct instructor of music at Lenoir-Rhyne University.

“His musicianship and professionalism has been a mainstay of this event for many years, and the choir and its directors are deeply appreciative,” Gossler said.

Other musicians who will accompany the group include Morgan Jeter, a Morganton-based violinist who performs locally and owns her own teaching studio for strings; a brass quartet coordinated by Tim Phillips of Lenoir-Rhyne University; and Lauren Bedard, a student at Freedom High School and a drum major in its Patriot Band, who will play flute with the choir on two carol arrangements.

The Freedom High School Chambers Singers will make a special appearance at the concert Sunday, performing with the Combined Choirs group.

“We are delighted to include the Freedom High School Chamber Singers as the guest choir this season, directed by Mara Walker,” Gossler said. “Over the past five years, the ensemble has developed a reputation in the region for performance at a high level at concerts and contests, and many alumni have gone on to sing in college choirs and major in music. They will be singing two pieces as a solo choir, in addition to joining Combined Choirs on two others.”

Gossler shared a preview of what people can expect to hear at the concert.

“A variety of musical styles will be heard,” he said. “Among the traditional carols performed will be ‘Silent Night’ with violin, flute and piano, ‘O Come, Little Children,’ and the spiritual ‘Mary Had a Baby’ with soloist Martha Watts. The old southern American hymn ‘Star in the East’ is the basis for ‘Brightest and Best,’ an energetic setting accompanied by an exciting violin part. The Freedom Chamber Singers will contribute versions of ‘Lo, How a Rose’ in the original German and a 2015 rhythmic arrangement of ‘Veni, Emmanuel’ in Latin, which includes percussion.”

Gossler, who also arranges music and composes original pieces, has set a British hymn by C. Hubert H. Parry to the Advent text, ‘Hark, a Thrilling Voice Is Sounding’ for choir, organ and brass, which will “end the concert on a festive note.”

As in years past, the choir also will perform Handel’s “Hallelujah Chorus."

A freewill offering will be taken during the concert to help with expenses.

In case of inclement weather on Sunday, the concert will be rescheduled for 7 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 10. In the case of continued inclement weather on Monday, the concert will be cancelled.

Gossler encouraged people to come out for an evening of Christmas spirit in song.

“We feel sure Morganton and Burke County will continue to support this concert,” he said. “Our volunteer singers are always inspired both by the true meaning of the season and by a large audience to give our best as a gift to the community. The music will contain the new and the old, the joyous and the peaceful.”

Staff writer Tammie Gercken can be reached at

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