St. Anthony’s Seminary, with its exquisite altar piece, was the setting last weekend for Mysteries of Christmas, the seasonal offering of the Quire of Voyces.

Under the direction of founder Nathan Kreitzer, the Quire performed sacred Christmas works, including four by composer-in-residence Michael Eglin. A full house on Sunday heard Eglin’s Christmas Vespers and other, decidedly noncommercial works beautifully realized within the chapel’s noted acoustics.

The concert began with three Christmas Villancicos by Spanish composer Francisco Guerrero (1528-99). These “spiritual songs” extolled Mary and her baby, “lying in a little manger in tiny Bethlehem …” As usual, the professionals who make up the Quire sang with the utmost sensitivity.

Eglin has created a seven-part Vespers as “the exploration of his Catholic heritage and his desire to counter a perceived decline in the contemporary state of Catholic music,” according to the program notes.

He received his doctorate in music from UCSB after studying with William Kraft and Joel Feigin. The Vespers is his second major work for the Quire, rich with complexities and vocal sweetness. The soloists were soprano Nichole Dechaine and alto Kristin Aylesworth.

After intermission, Eglin’s Noel nouvelet was sung by the men of the Quire. The ladies then rejoined them for the remainder of the program, starting with the beloved Coventry Carol from 16th-century England.

The Godly Stranger was an unfamiliar and beautiful piece from the pen of the late G. Winston Cassler of St. Olaf’s (Lutheran) College in Minnesota. It was followed by an elaboration of Michael Praetorius’ Lo, How Like a Rose E’er Blooming, arranged for full chorus by Swedish composer Jan Sandström.

Down in Yon Forest (An Appalachian Carol) by Eglin was next, evoking the church music of America’s Southern mountains. When Rooks Fly Homeward, composed in 1950 by Arthur Baynon, bore a refrain written by Joseph Campbell: “When night is one with the brooding sea, Then comes the quiet of Christ to me.”

A strong The Three Kings by Healey Willan and Gustav Holst’s Nunc dimittis were additional compositions of interest, not often heard. Nunc dimittis is a sweeping work that Holst composed about the same time he was writing The Planets.

The final piece on the program was Eglin’s touching Sweet Babe Wrapt in Twilight Shade. As it ended, the audience rose in an ovation. The Quire then sent everybody home with Silent Night.

Further testimony to the excellence of the Quire of Voyces was an announcement in the program: The group has been invited to be the guest choir at High Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica on June 18, 2010, and funds are needed to send the volunteer singers to the Vatican. Potential donors are asked to contact Ann Dwelley at 805.897.3339 or, Kreitzer at or Patty Volner at

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.