Leave it up to Abbotsford's flamboyant and creative classical music teacher to come up with a fresh way to celebrate the reason for Christmas.
Calvin Dyck, the founder of the innovative Songs, Strings, and Steps company of young performers, and its artistic director for the past 12 years, set up a contest this fall to find a brand new Christmas carol or two.
The idea was for the SSS troupe, which has up to 150 performers some years, perform the songs at their annual Christmas show.
"I'm excited about the possibility of discovering the next popular carol," Dyck said last week.
"We've all seen millions of people getting involved in selecting an idol [on reality shows] and we thought, why can't we do that?' "
He sent out calls for new compositions to several Christian magazines and music schools - the songs had to be composed for voice and had to be sacred, celebrating the birth of Christ.
It was a big task, because composing new pieces takes "hours and hours and hours of work to make a composition," said Dyck, who is a conductor and professional freelance violist with organizations such as the Vancouver Island Symphony, as well as a teacher and concert producer.
"I'm really pleased we had local participation. We had more submissions than we expected. We expected 20 and got 30."
The contest even caught the attention of the Mennonite Brethren Herald, which gave it national exposure in one of the country's largest media publications aimed at the Mennonite community.
The judges who winnowed the entries down to the final eight were Holda Fast of the Worship Together task force, retired Columbia Bible College choir conductor Rudy Baerg and Dyck.
"We looked at lyrics and music," said Dyck. "Was the text appropriate? The music well crafted? Did the carol 'appeal' to us?"
There are actually six finalists, two who submitted two pieces:
Larry Nickel - former MEI music teacher and professional composer
Stan Guibiotti - orchestra concertmaster for Willingdon Mennonite Brethren Church, Burnaby
Karen Savage - piano teacher from Mission
Edwin Childs - composer from Illinois
Neil Stipp - composer from California
Gail Poulson - composer from Ontario
"There's a variety of styles. Everything from an Ava Maria traditional style to something fairly upbeat and jazzy, more contemporary," said Dyck as he scatted the rhythm last week. One score reworks a piece by early 18th-century French baroque composer Jean-Philippe Rameau.
The pieces will be performed by the 36-member Abbotsford Youth Orchestra as part of the Songs, Strings and Steps show, over four Christmas performances.
As usual the youth and energetic SSS concert will incorporate costumes, skits and choreography that also involves the musicians. Audience members will vote for their favourite in each category: choral, contemporary band style, or solo.
The composers who earn the most accumulated votes in their categories will be announced at the end of the final performance, and will win part of the $5,500 prize purse.
While the carols focus on the religious reason for Christmas, Dyck said the concerts will appeal to those who don't regularly attend church, but appreciate the beauty of music and the carol tradition.
"Canadian society has a long tradition of singing Christmas carols," said Dyck, who recalled he was serenaded at home by some young carolers one recent Christmas.
"I'm trying to bridge that gap, to do a traditional Christmas concert in a community environment."
Joining the evening will be soprano soloist Alison Nystrom for the carol competition and for Rejoice from Handel's Messiah, and the three Pilkey Sisters with perfectly matching voices.
There will be excerpts from The Nutcracker performed by Fraser Valley Academy of Dance, plus the Langley Cello Ensemble, solos by Dyck, a brass ensemble, and choral sensation iSing with additional community singers to form a mass choir.
As usual, the concert will have its surprises.
"Last year we had 1,000 snowballs made of yarn which the audience was invited to throw," said Dyck.
This year it will be 1,000 of something else, he promises.
? The performances will be Dec. 20, 21, 22 at 7 p.m. and Dec 22 at 2 p.m. at the Central Heights MB Church, 1661 McCallum Rd., Abbotsford, B.C. Tickets are adults/$25, seniors/$22, students/$12 at Kings Music or House of James. Discounts are available for groups of 20 or more by contacting firstname.lastname@example.org. See more at www.calvindyck.com.