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Joyful noise: Long Island's church choirs

The gospel choir practices Sunday afternoon at the

The gospel choir practices Sunday afternoon at the First Baptist Church of Riverhead. (Dec. 5, 2010) Credit: Photo by Gordon M. Grant

What's the holiday season without music, joy and harmony?

This weekend is prime time for church choirs across Long Island, whose members will raise their voices for spiritual Christmas concerts. While the styles of choirs range from traditional choral to contemporary gospel, they all have one thing in common: they're primarily ministries of music designed to get the listener a step closer to God, a level stronger in faith.

"We try to be interactive, to get congregants moving," says The Rev. Robert Stewart, 37, director of the award-winning contemporary gospel choir at Calvary Tabernacle Church in Hempstead. "There are hand gestures, movements to music and call and response."

Indeed, hearing some of Long Island's premier church choirs can be a powerful and ethereal experience.

Church of Saint Aidan 

WHEN | WHERE: 6 p.m. Saturday, 505 Willis Ave., Williston Park, 516-746-6585,

ABOUT THE CHOIR: Around 150 members in six choirs, including one dedicated to handbell ringers.

This choir will perform works by Handel and other religious music for the holiday concert. Size matters - the parish is known as the largest Catholic music ministry on Long Island, according to music director Dragan Bubalo. Indeed - the holiday concert features nearly 250 participants between singers and musicians in a full orchestra.

Cathedral of the Incarnation

WHEN | WHERE: 4 p.m. Sunday, 50 Cathedral Ave., Garden City, 516-746-6167,

ABOUT THE CHOIRS: 60 voices total in the three choirs performing music that dates back to the 1550s.

The church's holiday concert, "A Festival of Lessons and Carols for Christmas," includes choirs singing traditional music accompanied by one of the largest pipe organs on Long Island.

"This year's service begins with a little boy singing all by himself," says music director Larry Tremsky. "It is so cool to hear this one little voice fill this huge Gothic cathedral. Then all the choirs march up the aisles to join him." It's what you might expect to hear in a traditional English cathedral - without having to travel 5,000 miles. 

First Baptist Church of Riverhead

WHEN | WHERE: 6 p.m. Sunday, 1018 Northville Tpke., Riverhead, 631-727-3446

ABOUT THE CHOIR: 30 members perform mostly traditional gospel

The church is lavishly decorated with treats and token gifts for the holiday season. "We do things to teach and share our gifts with the community at large," says senior pastor Charles A. Coverdale. The congregation's goal, he says, is to make visitors feel like honored guests. The choir sings a myriad Christmas songs, some with a gospel tinge, others more Texas country, but "they're all ways Africans and African-Americans have expressed and experienced Christmas," he says.

Calvary Tabernacle

WHEN | WHERE: 7 p.m. Sunday, 78 N. Franklin St., Hempstead, $10 suggested donation; 516-292-3685,

ABOUT THE CHOIR: Its 50-plus members perform contemporary gospel with gusto, accompanied by a piano, organ, drums and guitar.

At this Apostolic Pentecostal church, expect to see people dancing in the aisles, being moved to make laps around the sanctuary, congregants shaking tambourines along to the music and even ushers clapping and waving white handkerchiefs throughout the service. "The congregation feeds off the energy of the choir," says usher Davia Edwards, 35, of Hempstead. "They never disappoint you. The choir adds to the message of the pastor." 

Union Baptist Church of Hempstead

WHEN | WHERE: 6 p.m. Dec. 18, 44 Rev. Clinton C. Boone Place, Hempstead, 516-483-3088

ABOUT THE CHOIR: Its 30-plus members sing a mix of contemporary and traditional gospel. Union Baptist's holiday concert will feature religious Christmas carols and something from Handel's Messiah.

Memorial Presbyterian Church

WHEN | WHERE: Performance as part of services at 7:45 and 11:15 a.m. Dec. 19, 189 Babylon Tpke., Roosevelt, 516-623-9561

ABOUT THE CHOIR: 30 members, mix of contemporary and traditional gospel. The church also has a praise team that dances to and interprets gospel music.

Pastor Reggie Tuggle says the parish's prize-winning choir is in a rebuilding phase after the recent departure of its longtime director. "We're more contemporary," says Tuggle. Still, this season's holiday concert will include interpretative dances to religious music and a religion-based play performed by the theater ministry.

St. Agnes Cathedral

WHEN | WHERE: Performing during the regular services this year, 11 p.m. Dec. 24 as part of midnight Mass; 9:30 a.m. Mass Christmas Day will feature Girls Choir; 11 a.m. Mass Christmas Day will feature concert of traditional Christmas carols, from Baroque Christmas to the present; 29 Quealy Place, Rockville Centre, 516-766-0205

ABOUT THE CHOIR: Nearly 200 voices make up the six choirs that sing mostly traditional Baroque and Renaissance styles of music. Includes a brass quartet, 65-person men and boys choir, soloists and a children's choir made up of first and second graders.Music director Michael Bower says St. Agnes prides itself on taking young voices and training them to professional levels. "Those who hear our choirs for the first time are surprised how refined these young voices are, that they can sing such challenging music at such a young age," says Bower. Expect to hear even grade schoolers tackling complicated pieces.

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