Byron McGilvray, who has directed the annual Midwinter Vocal Festival for the past 30 years, talks about Johann Sebastian Class during one of the festival’s workshops, Friday, Dec. 28,2018. The festival will concluded with a concert Sunday, Jan. 6. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

Byron McGilvray, who has directed the annual Midwinter Vocal Festival for the past 30 years, talks about Johann Sebastian Class during one of the festival’s workshops, Friday, Dec. 28,2018. The festival will concluded with a concert Sunday, Jan. 6. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

Concert celebrates 30 years of joyful noise

Juneau Lyric Opera’s Midwinter Vocal Festival will celebrate its long history

This is the year to catch up on a 30-year-old tradition.

Juneau Lyric Opera’s annual Midwinter Vocal Festival closes with a concert at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall, Sunday Jan. 6, and it will feature highlights from the past three decades of festivals. The festival runs in late December and early January — this year Dec. 28-Jan.5 — and is an excursion of singing workshops and classes that closes with a concert.

“I think people are really going to enjoy the concert,” said Lena Simmons, who has been involved in every Midwinter Vocal Festival. “We’ll sing some classical but also some Broadway-type things.”

[PHOTOS: Juneau Cabaret Extravaganza]

Simmons said the festival has grown significantly over the decades.

When it started, there were about 23 participants, Simmons said. Now, there are typically about 50 singers.

“The 23 of us didn’t know what we were doing,” Simmons said.

Back then, the first end-of-festival performance included just one piece by Mozart and one by Schubert.

“We’ve got eight or nine pieces this year.” Simmons said. “We can do more, and we come together faster,”

Making history

The festival has had the same director for the past 30 years, Byron McGilvray, a resident of Athens, Texas, renowned conductor and retired music professor.

McGilvray, former head of the vocal division of San Francisco State University, said he became involved in the annual event after he was approached by Juneauites at a fine arts festival in Fairbanks. They were interested in starting a winter music festival.

“I said, ‘Sure we’ll come,’” McGilvray said. “That’s the way it all started.”

Pianist Janis Capelle, joined him for the initial festival and over the years has been involved in “at least half” of the 30 festivals with some time off in between the festivals’ earliest and more recent years.

[Choral workshop returns for 29th year]

They said they had no idea it would turn into a 30-year tradition when it started, but watching the can-do gumption in Juneau coupled with artistic growth cultivate accomplished artists has been fulfilling over the years.

“That’s the part that’s most rewarding,” McGilvray said. “It’s grown so tremendously, and we’ve done so many different kind of things.”

The history also leads to a level of familiarity.

“I’m teaching the children of those I’ve taught,” McGilvray said.

Before a festival class focused on the works of Johann Sebastian Bach and his sons Friday night, McGilvray greeted participants warmly and generally by name.

Capelle and McGilvray said while the long relationships are nice, but the existing history shouldn’t intimidate those who haven’t participated in past year’s from registering for Festival 31’s events next year.

Part of the reason, McGilvray and Capelle said folks should not be intimidated is their deep-rooted belief everyone can sing.

“I’ve never met anyone who can’t sing,” Capelle said. “Make a joyful noise. There are a lot of ways to hear joy in a voice.”

McGilvray said anyone who puts in the time to coordinate their voice and ears can sing.

“They can do it,” McGilvray said. “People need to participate in these types of activities. There’s something about singing with other people that feeds the spirit. You get a glimpse into greatness.”

The greatest hits

The set list for the Sunday concert includes nine pieces plus a handful of solo performances.

Picking favorites from the list was tough for Simmons and McGilvray.

“If you ask a composer what their favorite piece is, they’ll say the one they’re working on, McGilvray said.

Simmons said “Jabberwocky” a musical adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem is a lot of fun.

McGilvray said he’slooking forward to more serious selections such as Mozart’s “Laudate Dominum,” which he said is an extraordinarily emotional piece.

The song “Sing Me to Heaven” written by Daniel Gawthrop with lyrics by Jane Griner was also tabbed by McGilvray as a highlight.

“It’s really a very poignant thing,” McGilvray said.

Know & Go

What: Juneau Lyric Opera’s Midwinter Vocal Festival Final Concert

When: 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 6.

Where: Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall, 320 W. Willoughby Ave.

Admission: $15 for adults and $10 for seniors and students. Children younger than 10 will be admitted for free. Tickets are available at Hearthside Books, Juneau Arts & Culture Center, at the door and at juneauopera.org.


• Contact arts and culture reporter Ben Hohenstatt at (907)523-2243 or bhohenstatt@juneauempire.com.


Byron McGilvray, who has directed the annual Midwinter Vocal Festival for the past 30 years, talks about Johann Sebastian Class during one of the festival’s workshops, Friday, Dec. 28,2018. The festival will concluded with a concert Sunday, Jan. 6. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

Byron McGilvray, who has directed the annual Midwinter Vocal Festival for the past 30 years, talks about Johann Sebastian Class during one of the festival’s workshops, Friday, Dec. 28,2018. The festival will concluded with a concert Sunday, Jan. 6. (Ben Hohenstatt | Capital City Weekly)

More in News

This photo shows a multi-vehicle carport following an early morning fire. (Courtesy Photo / Capital City Fire/Rescue)
Firefighters extinguish early morning carport fire

The fire marshal will investigate.

The Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, contracting with Coastal Helicopters, works to reduce avalanche risk on Thane Road by setting off avalanches in a controlled fashion on Feb. 5, 2021.(Michael S. Lockett / Juneau Empire File)
Thane Road to close Saturday morning for avalanche hazard reduction

Thane Road will be closed for two hours Saturday morning to allow… Continue reading

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. Viruses are constantly mutating, with coronavirus variants circulating around the globe. (NIAID-RML)
COVID at a glance for Friday, March 5

The most recent state and local numbers.

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. Viruses are constantly mutating, with coronavirus variants circulating around the globe. (NIAID-RML)
COVID at a glance for Thursday, March 4

The most recent state and local numbers.

Police Car
Police calls for Thursday, March 5, 2021

This report contains public information from law enforcement and public safety agencies.

This Sept. 2008 photo provided by the Center for Whale Research taken near Washington state’s San Juan Islands shows scientists looking for clues about the diet of the Pacific Northwest’s endangered orcas using a pool skimmer to collect the scales or other remains of salmon the whales had eaten. A long-term study published Wednesday, March 3, 2021, reaffirmed the importance of Chinook salmon to the whales even when they cruise the outer Pacific Coast, where the fish are harder to find. (Ken Balcomb / Center for Whale Research)
Study: Chinook salmon are key to Northwest orcas all year

That includes fish that spawn in California’s Sacramento River all the way to the Taku River.

Rep. Deb Haaland, D-N.M., listens during the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources hearing on her nomination to be Interior secretary, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Some Republican senators labeled Haaland “radical” over her calls to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and address climate change, and said that could hurt rural America and major oil and gas-producing states. The label of Haaland as a “radical” by Republican lawmakers is getting pushback from Native Americans. (Jim Watson / Pool Photo)
Senate energy panel backs Haaland for interior secretary

Murkowski was the lone Republican to support Haaland.

This 2020 electron microscope image provided by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - Rocky Mountain Laboratories shows SARS-CoV-2 virus particles which cause COVID-19, isolated from a patient in the U.S., emerging from the surface of cells cultured in a lab. Viruses are constantly mutating, with coronavirus variants circulating around the globe. (NIAID-RML)
COVID at a glance for Wednesday, March 3

The most recent state and local numbers.

Most Read