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Cantata for Community

Brian E. Wilhour composes the Christmas Cantata, which he will conduct on Sunday, Dec. 8, at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in McLean.

"In high school I was convinced I didn’t want to be a musician at all. That was the last thing I wanted."

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Brian E. Wilhour

That’s Immanuel Church Music Director Brian E. Wilhour, reflecting on his 15 years at Immanuel, and having written 15 major choral and orchestral works. When he started winning choral and instrumental competitions and prizes in high school and was selected for Pennsylvania State Chorus, Wilhour made his decision. He’d major in music at Bucknell University (Class of ’91). He went on to graduate with honors from a double Master’s program at Westminster Choir College, Princeton, N.J. The rest is history, and our community’s gain.

Wilhour will conduct his most recent piece, "The Handmaid of the Lord" at 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Sunday, Dec. 8 at Immanuel Presbyterian Church in McLean. This Christmas Cantata is open to the community, as it is every year, and features a full choir and chamber orchestra.

The choir is the full Immanuel choir, augmented by church members and others who want to be part of Immanuel’s special Christmas program. Most of the instrumentalists are professional musicians from the D.C. area.

Rehearsals for the Christmas Cantata began two months ago. And this year, the Christmas Cantata was written well in advance of the Dec. 8 presentations. Past years haven’t been so smooth, as Wilhour often composes his major orchestral and choral works backwards. That is to say, he writes complicated movements first, because they need more thorough rehearsal, and these tend to be toward the end of the cantata. He composes the simpler movements last, sometimes the week before they are presented. And if the chorus is ever curious about what they’ll be singing, they’ll likely hear Wilhour say something like, "It’s in my head…don’t you worry about it…you’ll have it soon enough."

Somehow it all comes together, like Christmas sausage, on the morning of the Cantata, every year. And it’s officially Christmas again in McLean.