Pop quiz: What’s the most popular Christmas carol of all time?
No, not “Jingle Bells.”
Or “Hark the Herald Angels.”
And if you guessed “Away in A Manger,” “Let It Snow,” “White Christmas” or the ubiquitous “The Christmas Song” with Jack Frost waiting in the wings while your chestnuts roast on an open fire … you guessed wrong.
The answer: “Silent Night,” that somber yet inspiring carol that you sing usually at the end of the Christmas Eve service, holding a candle. You can’t help but sway slowly, side to side, when you get to that part in the chorus — “Sleep in heavenly peace” — and you lift your voice an octave or two as if you’re singing to the heavens.
“Silent Night” turns 200 on Christmas Eve and in its birthplace of Salzburg, Austria, they’ve been celebrating since the fall with song festivals, art exhibits, lecture series and concerts.
Tucson is not pulling out quite as many stops, but this weekend, “Silent Night” will be the centerpiece of True Concord Voices & Orchestra’s annual “Lessons & Carols by Candlelight: Love’s Pure Light” concert.
Toward the end of the program, which True Concord will perform five times over four days at five different locations beginning Thursday, Dec. 13, vocalists from the professional choir will leave the stage and go into the hall singing “Silent Night” as they light audience members’ candles. The audience will be invited to sing along and True Concord Conductor Eric Holtan anticipates the song will be the highlight of the concert.
“ ‘Silent Night’ is like in a league of its own. It’s the queen of carols,” he said.
“Of all the carols that we have, and there are so many wonderful carols, this one to me is the most closely connected to Christmas,” he added. “There’s something incredibly tender about the text and the musical setting. All is calm and it talks about this young virgin mother and son and you picture this scene. … There’s just a tenderness to it that speaks to me and I suspect that is the case for many people. And maybe that is why it has endured all these 200 years.”
Also on True Concord’s program: “Gloria” from “Missa Brevis”; Carson Cooman’s “Verbum supernum prodiens”; John Rutter’s “Love Came Down at Christmas”; and “Sing We Now of Christmas,” arranged by Fred Prentice and Carol Barnett.