Members of the San Benito Oriana Chorale practice for their upcoming “Carols and Lullabies” concerts during a recent Monday evening rehearsal at Christ Fellowship in Hollister. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

For many, the San Benito Oriana Chorale’s holiday concerts are the kick-off to the Christmas season.

“It sets the tone for a beautiful Christmas season,” said Director Rachel Romina. “This traditionally is the launching pad of Christmas. It’s going to be phenomenal.” 

But for the past several years, that tradition has been lacking something due to the Covid-19 pandemic: a performance at Mission San Juan Bautista. Many people have been asking when the chorale will be back in the mission, said singer Laurie Venturini, noting that it’s typically their most attended concert with more than 200 in the audience.

Now, when members are asked that question, they can give a definitive answer: Dec. 13.

The San Benito Oriana Chorale’s “Carols and Lullabies” concerts begin Dec. 13 at Mission San Juan Bautista, 406 Second St. in San Juan Bautista, at 7:30pm, followed by performances on Dec. 15 at 7:30pm and Dec. 17 at 3pm at Christ Fellowship, 2066 San Benito St. in Hollister. 

Romina said the concert features a variety of holiday pieces in English, Spanish and Latin, from carol singalongs, a performance from Handel’s “Messiah,” lullabies and more. 

The multigenerational group of nearly 60 range in age from 8 to 89, joined by pianist and Gavilan College instructor Maria Amirkanian, and Romina said she has been with the chorale since 2008, the past five years as director.

“We have an awesome group of people,” she said. “This has been like my family for 15 years.”

Romina said she enjoys bringing singers of all skill levels together, as well as the challenge of arranging those singers in a way that “they will sound their best.”

“You can create something really beautiful,” she said. “The color and the moods that are created by the human voice are amazing.”

Singers with the Oriana Chorale are all volunteers who have been practicing together regularly in preparation for their upcoming holiday concerts. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

Oriana Chorale was founded in 1986 by local musician Jeanna Balda. Over the years, the group has attracted and retained a lineup of singers who have spent most of their lives practicing their vocal chops for audiences at their schools, churches and other community stages. 

At 89, Court Nichols is the longest-tenured member of the group, having performed every year since its inaugural concert.

Nichols said he will “maybe retire” from the group when he turns 90. For now, he is looking forward to a return to Mission San Juan Bautista.

Joined by pianist Maria Amirkanian (left), Rachel Romina directs the choir during a recent rehearsal. Photo: Erik Chalhoub

“It’s such an historic building,” he said. “What an honor to be able to perform somewhere that’s almost 230 years old.” 

Both Nichols and Venturini praised Romina and Amirkanian, with Venturini saying that the director “whips us into shape” and Nichols noting she “keeps raising the bar.”

Venturini has been with the chorale since 1997, noting that the group is welcoming to all singers and doesn’t require auditions for prospective members.

That welcoming spirit extends to the audience during the concerts, who will be invited to join in during some pieces.

“It’s become a tradition,” Venturini said. “Our concerts get Christmas started for a lot of people.”

The San Benito Oriana Chorale’s “Carols and Lullabies” concerts begin Dec. 13 at Mission San Juan Bautista, 406 Second St. in San Juan Bautista, at 7:30pm, followed by performances on Dec. 15 at 7:30pm and Dec. 17 at 3pm at Christ Fellowship, 2066 San Benito St. in Hollister. 

Admission is $20 for adults and $10 for students. Children ages 12 and under are free.

Tickets can be purchased at Postal Graphics, 1760 Airline Highway in Hollister, or at the door.

For information, visit orianachorale.org.

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Erik Chalhoub joined Weeklys as an editor in 2019. Prior to his current position, Chalhoub worked at The Pajaronian in Watsonville for seven years, serving as managing editor from 2014-2019.

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