Hundreds of students to perform in Department of Music ensembles in December

Several instrumental and choral concerts will feature holiday selections. 

musicians on a stage with a conductor on the podium
The Penn Symphony Orchestra is one of several Penn Department of Music ensembles performing in December.  (Image: Courtesy of the Penn Department of Music)

Hundreds of undergraduate students will perform in instrumental and choral concerts in December as part of Department of Music ensembles, many of them featuring holiday selections. In addition, new music by seven Penn doctoral student composers will be performed by local professional musicians. All the performances are free and open to the public. 

Nearly 600 people participate in the 11 ensembles, most of them undergraduate students, along with some Penn graduate students, faculty, and staff, says Michael Ketner, director of performance for the department in the School of Arts & Sciences

“The various groups are meant for everyone involved to have an opportunity to participate in a creative act of some kind and to develop those skills, whether on an instrument, or with their voice, learning new music and keeping that going,” Ketner says. “We try to have something for everyone.” 

The ensembles, directed by professional educators and performers, are designed to encourage participation by those who are just beginning in music to the most advanced. Some require auditions, and others do not. Participating undergraduate students can register for a half-credit course for their participation in the department’s ensembles. 

“Most of them may not be training to become professional musicians, but they can at least experience what that process is like and hopefully grow themselves creatively and musically in the process,” Ketner says.

The Penn Symphony Orchestra, which will perform at 8 p.m. on Dec. 9 in Irvine Auditorium, is the largest of the ensembles with 150-plus members. Interest in the orchestra has grown so much that Thomas Hong, artistic director and conductor, has created two groups, which will both perform at the two-hour concert. “Our mission is to be as inclusive as possible,” Ketner says. On the program is Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 5. In addition, Richard Woodhams, the principal oboe of the Philadelphia Orchestra for 40-plus years until his retirement, will be featured.

The Penn Flutes, under the direction of Michele Kelly, will perform its “Vintage Holiday” concert at 2 p.m. on Dec. 2 at the Penn Museum, and again at 1:30 p.m. on Dec. 8 at the Penn Libraries’ Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center, as part of the “Music in the Stacks Series.” Members of the Penn Chamber also will perform at Van Pelt-Dietrich, at 7 p.m. on Dec. 6, as part of the series, a collaboration between the Department of Music and the Albrecht Music Library

The Penn Chamber’s winter concert is at 7 p.m. on Dec. 1, and at 3 p.m. on Dec. 2, in the Rose Recital Hall in Fisher-Bennett. Also on Dec. 2, at 8 p.m., is the Penn Wind Ensemble playing seasonal favorites. 

The Penn Chorale, a mixed chorus of all genders with about 40 singers conducted by Elizabeth Braden, will perform at 3 p.m. on Dec. 3 at St. Mary’s Church on Locust Walk with a repertoire of contemporary music. 

At 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 4 the Penn Collegium Musicum, a select chamber choir led by Meg Bragle, will perform music from the Medieval, Renaissance, and early Baroque periods.  

Performing in Houston Hall will be two world music groups: the Penn Arab Music Ensemble, with vocal and instrumental music from the Middle East, at 8 p.m. on Dec. 7; and Penn Samba, featuring a variety of instrumental rhythms from Brazil, at 7 p.m. on Dec. 11.

“If you are interested in hearing holiday music you might not hear in other settings, these would be great concerts to come and listen to,” Ketner says. 

A unique concert by what is known as the Penn Sound Collective will feature new music by Penn’s doctoral student composers David Acevedo, Andrew Burke, Eliana Fishbeyn, Max Johnson, Brendan McMullen, Susanna Payne-Passmore, and Elise Mark. Local professional musicians will perform the compositions at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 8 in the Rose Recital Hall in Fisher-Bennett Hall.

“It’s a great way for those composers to make sure they get professional recorded examples of the music they are working on,” Ketner says. “And they are able to forge a relationship with many professional musicians and ensembles.”