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Monday, December 19, 2011

Christmas Choir Music Beyond ‘The Hallelujah Chorus’

The Calhoun Choir. (Courtesy of Calhoun Choir)

Sure, “The Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s “Messiah” is a staple for many a Christmas concert. But as Ron Cohen, Robin Young’s former choir director, points out, there is a rich repertoire of other choir music out there.

He came to our studio in his Santa hat and red suspenders, well-worn mix tape in tow, and he took us through some of his favorites.

Ron Cohen, Robin's former choir director at the J.F.K. High School Choir in Plainview Long Island. (Robin Lubbock/Here & Now)

That included a rare recording of the J.F.K. choir singing “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” which he still remembers seeing John F. Kennedy High School Choir students sing every Christmas as part of a traditional processional.

“The greatest memory I have of the choir is the processional. Just putting the candles in all of your guys faces… and seeing you go down the aisle with ice blue lighting and just the candles, coming to the stage and then breaking into four part harmony. It just speaks of what Christmas is all about,” he said us.

Ron Cohen’s Choral Favorites
1. John Rutter “Gloria Patri (from Magnificat)” Performed by The Cambridge Singers with The City of London Sinfonia.

2. Healey Willan “An Apostrophe to the Heavenly Hosts” performed by The Sanford H. Calhoun High School Choir, S. Talbot Thayer, Director.

3. Gaudete (traditional), arranged by Michael McGlynn performed by Anúna.

4. John Heiss Carol of the Wise Men, performed by the John F. Kennedy High School Choir.

5. Gian Carlo Menotti, “Have you seen a Child (from Amahl and the Night Visitors) — performed by Rosemary Kuhlmann, Andrew McKinley, David Aiken, Leon Lishner.

6. Arthur Honegger “Une cantate de Noël,” Performed by: Jindřich Jindrák – baritone, Jaroslav Tvrzský – organ. Czech Chorus, Chorus Master Josef Veselka, Kühn Children’s Chorus, Chorus Master Jiři Chvála, Prague Symphony Orchestra, Conductor Serge Baudo.

7. “O Come, O Come,Emmanuel” (traditional) performed by John F. Kennedy High School Choir.
We also played George Frideric Handel’s “Messiah, HWV 56. Pt. 2: Hallelujah (Chorus: Allegro) performed by the King’s College Choir, David Willcocks, conductor.

And, speaking of holiday music, listener Dwight Wolter sent this video along:


  • Ron Cohen, Robin Young’s former choir director at the John F.Kennedy High School in Plainview Long Island

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • Alex Thayer

    I’m S. Talbot Thayer’s nephew  who Mr. Cohen graciously mentioned in this story-his musical legacy lives on and I’d love to chat with Mr. Cohen about singing for this incredible genius!
    Alex Thayer

  • Tom Weaver

    My favorite Christmas event is the St Olaf Christmas Festival. This year’s edition is the 100th. Five choirs and one orchestra combine to make this one of the New York Times Christmas events not to be missed and one of the Christian Science Monitors top picks for 2011. The festival will be rebroadcast on Minnesota Public Radio (minnesota.publicradio.org) on Dec 23 at 7 pm. CST. A one-hour video from the Festival will be broadcast on PBS stations around the country.  Check your local stations schedule to find out when.

  • Connie in NC

    The Messiah is certainly grand and powerful, but I often wonder why other very *moving* pieces are rarely sung anymore like Lauridsen’s O Mangum Mysterium!?  Close your eyes and take a listen -http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1J0O8wTzvIc - you’ll be AMAZED at how much beauty can come from the human voice when joined with others. 

  • J Labbee

    The most amazing choral event I attended was a presentation by the Market Harborough Singers, conducted by David Beavans at St Dionysius Church, in Market Harborough,  in December 2006. The wonderful carols and musicial pieces were interupted only by season appropriate readings by the renownd actor, Michael Kilgrarriff. Truly an amazing experience. 

  • Donald Coakley

     Donald Coakley

    I thought the segment with Ron Cohen was just terrific.  It sounds like he was some kind of choral conductor.  Then, when I heard his choir at J.F.K. high school singing O Come Emmanuel,  that clinched it.  Great segment!

  • Stephen C. Pagano

    This is so special. My mentor (Ron Cohen) paying homage to his mentor (Tal Thayer). Glorious music… and lovely sentiment. It is truly a Merry and very Musical Christmas filled with harmony and love. Bravo Ron! Bravo Robin! 
    Thank you again for sharing Ron’s passion and love of the choral art.

    Stephen C. Pagano

  • John Heiss

    What an amazing segment!  Thanks so much for bringing beautiful memories and melodies to savor again and even including the Carol of the Wise Men…

  • John Heiss

    BTW to Robin, I just heard a trivia fact from a JFK friend that I shared the role of Tom Sawyer with your brother in our elementary school production ;)

    • Steve Brett

      Talking about Robin’s brother (who knows who we’re talking about?)…I heard him sing “Scarlett Ribbons” at one of the H.S. Christmas assemblies and I remember it to this day. Best rendition ever.

      Ah Ron, I remember you as the young choir director, with piss and vinegar, building a choir by challenging the young men to match set shots with you from beyond the three point line – just to get some male voices in the group!

      You never settled for less than the best we had and as Robin and thousands of others will attest (Calhoun, Greeley, NYSSMA) the results were magic and unforgettable. Merry Christmas.

  • Bob Massa

    Well, God bless Ron Cohen for sharing this with us all.  I was in the Calhoun Choir when we performed Willan’s Apostrophe to the Heavenly Host.  I know it touched him and helped to create what he did so well at JFK HIgh in Plainview.  But even more important, as Talbot Thayer did in Merrick, Ron changed lives forever.  This is what education is about.  I am not sure if we still have this today.  I hope so.  But I am grateful to have come of age in the 60s and to have had teachers like Thayer and Cohen.     Bob Massa, Branchburg, NJ

    • Audrey Halpern

      Bob, I remember hearing you in the Calhoun Choir when several of us from Kennedy attended your concerts. We met and I can still see your face. I hope you are still singing and enjoying music. Best Wishes to you!

  • Len Brass

    Ron Cohen has a way of capturing the essence of music in a way that touches me deeply… In just a few minutes I hear and feel his love and passion for music and it reminds me of the precious holiday gift of sound so magnificent that for a short time the struggles of our troubled society can be put aside and my spirit is uplifted.  Thank you Robin for offering Ron to an audience that needs his special skills and the music that he shares and thank you
    Mr. Cohen for touching my heart.  

  • Rick Westerfield

    Awesome!!!! Ron you have a gift of blending beautiful music with such a love for people – it’s not just music for its own sake, but music for humanity’s sake. I hope you can do this more and more – you are a born communicator for choral music! Sing on!!

  • Laurie Ball

    I too sang with Tal Thayer (72-74) and Sandy Valerio who introduced us to Ron Cohen.  The traditions continue through another choir alumn who directs the Central Islip Choir.  Tal’s musical choices and sounds can still be heard on Long Island.  (See their youtube postings.)  Thanks for the memories.

  • tenor

    He started with John Rutter!? Lost me right there.

    • Ron Cohen

      I completely understand.  We wanted to start with an attention-grabbing, not widely known piece.   Maybe you could go back and listen to the entire segment and then tell me what you think.

  • Sjgnewyork

    This was a certainly a wonderful treat of music, conversation, and nostalgia for me.  Ron Cohen’s  playlist here is a reflection of his taste and talent – first class.  What is more, the dialogue is wonderfully upbeat, informative, and seasonally wrapped up with Ron Cohen’s inimitable panache.  It is nice to see him back where he belongs – in the driver’s seat of life.  My warmest wishes to a dear old friend and teacher.  

    Best regards,

    Stephen Gleason

  • Cbrodie

    I so enjoyed this segment. Almahl has always been a favorite of mine for Christmas. I would be very interested in getting the manuscript for John Heiss “Carol of the Wiseman” I would love to do it with my college chorale. If there is a way please let me know

    • John Heiss

      Thanks for your interest in the Carol, and to Ron and the choir for making it a part of their lives.  You can email me at jheiss@gmail.com.

  • Roberta Frank

    Ron’s enthusiasm is contagious. I always love listening to him.

    Roberta Frank

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1111831984 Jeffrey Biegel

    My wish for all high school choirs is to have a tradition like Ron Cohen’s from the Kennedy Choir. Such memories. I have preserved many of the recordings and feature them on my web site: 

  • Hillfest

    I loved Ron Cohen’s enthusiasm and his knowledge. He has been doing his thing before many of us were around——and he still has the infectious energy of a teenager!. I think that his love of music keeps him young and vital. I know mine does. Keep making beautiful music, Ron!

  • Bob Licari

    This was very enjoyable .. wish that I could have heard all of the selections from start to finish.  Hopefully, this can be repeated in the future.  Ron Cohen has an a great talent, lucky were his students to have been in his choir.  I never fail to enjoy his performances. 

  • Pat

    I love hearing Ron on your show.  His enthusiam is so contagious.  Thanks!

  • Idskid

    I love listening to people who know what they’re talking about, and Ron knows about music generally and   choral music in particular.

  • Kukla256

    It’s always interesting to listen to Ron Cohen.  I really enjoyed his choices for Christmas favorites.  One that he and others might like is Pachelbel’s Magnificat in D.  The following is a good one check out. 

  • Michael Peck, Music Lover

    Hello?  Mr. /Mrs. wbur Radio Producer out there – are you “listening?”  Rather than repeat the myriad of compliments and emotional attestations to this second “slam dunk” music segment by the newest Dynamic Duo of the Boston airwaves – Robin Young and Ron Cohen, I will summarize by indicating that Robin is accomplishing exactly what a successful show segment attempts to do.  It provides a vehicle that not only “Shares the Love” of something (in this case – Music), but it goes further by allowing listeners to be interactive and suggest their personal favorite selections, which adds to the collective knowledge of the genre for all!  Just look at the other fellow-listener comments.  Do I hear a Very Subtle request (from the partially satisfied wbur audience) for a recurring segment?  To borrow and embellish a line from a very famous “sports agent” movie . . . “Play us the Music!”

  • http://www.facebook.com/MichaelDeFilippisDDS Michael DeFilippis

    It was an honor to be a member of your choir back in the 70′s!  Your joy for music and your flair for life is always evident. This segment just enforces that.  Thank you for all you provided to help many students to understand and grow in life.

    Dr. Defilippis

  • Jack Yao

    Robin, once again you and Ron Cohen have brightened our lives with wonderful remembrances of our high school choir past and given us excitement and hope as we listen to your show.  The music excerpts make me want to listen more and Ron’s insights and love of music are infectious.  Please keep these segments coming!

  • Audrey Halpern

    As one who was inspired by Ron Cohen’s passion for music, hard work and the pursuit of excellence, this program was a spine tingling reminder of the true power of music.
    Ron’s voice says it all. The love of music lasts a lifetime.
    Robin, your interview of our former director was so beautiful and uplifting!
    Thank you both.
    Audrey Halpern

  • Chuck Schwartz

    Fantastic.  Listening to Mr. Cohen on this made me think that it was 1974 and I was back  in the choir room.  It sounds like he hasn’t aged a year.  Please keep these up.  They’re classic.

    Chuck Schwartz

  • Alison

    Ron is unbelievable and fabulous.  He’s got so much grace and talent.  He’s what music is all about.  It is such a treat to hear .  Would love to hear more of it.  Please play his music again and again.  He is a genius and should be heard.


  • Michaelstarr

    I have known Ron for over 50 years and am still amazed by his zest and enthusiasm for teaching us all about the beauty and joy of this music. I have attended several of his Kennedy Choir concerts and listening to his selections here brought back some fond memories. I would hope that he comes back again and again to share his love of choral music with your audience.

  • Bonnie Miller

    It was a pleasure listening to these selections and reminiscing about the Kennedy Choir. Being present in Ron Cohen’s classroom during the Christmas time was nothing short of magical. Thanks for doing this segment!

  • S. Michael Turner

    What a refreshing change from the typical “Silver Bells”  type of music!  Ron Cohen’s selections reveal the true meaning of the holiday and his commentary is enlightening and reveals his knowledge and appreciation of great choral performances.

  • http://www.facebook.com/robmccausland Robert G.H. McCausland

    Thank you so much for this.  I would add two other works not to be overlooked:  “O vos omnes” by The Boston Camerata (“A Renaissance Christmas”), and “Quelle est cette odeur” by Umeå Studentchoir (from “julsång”) – http://youtu.be/SWzOKaA8hN8

  • Bill Forman

    When the beauty and power of many voices joined in song is heard, a feeling of happiness and inspiration is felt that few other art forms can match. Amazing how much can be conveyed with music in such a short period of time. Please continue to broadcast such fabulous sounds. And as Ron Cohen taught us, setting lofty goals and reaching them will provide a feeling of satisfaction that lasts a lifetime.

    I can only hope such a program leads to more like it.

    Bill Forman

  • Vsl371

    Ron Cohen is very talented and music is something that needs to continue to be part of our children’s education. It brings a different dynamic to learning and sends a message not comparable to anything else.

  • Robert Riegl

    I was a compatriot of Ron’s during my 24 years at JFK. Whilst I a Chemistry Teacher had a distance to travel to the Music Dep’t—I never failed to walk by and listen to the Maestro at work. As a dedicated musicphile with an musical education as well, I looked forward to Ron’s concerts as a break during the day and the wonderful music  that was a privilege to be able to hear. It is so nice to hear his former students adding their voices as I do reoognize several names from the past. Ron and I often sought each other out and spent many a pleasant lunch period enjoying each others company and of course discussing the fabulous choirs he was privileged to nurture. Through my 22 years of retirement I often thought of him and we have finally touched base and share reminisces  and good times over the phone. Music has been a great part of my life and it is always a pleasure to be able to talk with Ron about our preferences. He is a great Vocal Director IMHO and should come back out hiding from his public who awaits him. My ddepest respects to Ron an outstanding choral director and human being.   Bobb R.

    • Marne Platt, JFK 85

      Dear Mr Riegel – wonderful to see your name and hear your memories of the choir. I never knew that you were such a fan! I agree, Ron should come back for at least one more reunion and concert.

  • Rdibari

    I enjoyed all of Ron’s selections.

  • Bobby

    I enjoyed all of Ron’s selections.

  • Guest

    You know, this isn’t the kind of music most people listen to often, but I think it’s something most everyone can enjoy.  I know I love it even though I don’t have it on iTunes, so I’m glad we were able to have this shared with us.

  • Marne Platt, JFK 85

    Robin,  another magical segment with Mr Cohen. Please keep them coming -listening to the music and his comments takes me back to high school and the JFK choir. I can see Ron in my mind’s eye, bouncing in front of us and inspiring us to make more beautiful music than we could have imagined.  O Come Emanuel still defines Christmas for me – the clip of the choir singing is priceless!

  • Anonymous

    Hey, love the music.  Would love to see more!

  • Bagermano

    Ron Cohen is an inspiring teacher.  I agree his selections reveal a true appreciation for the wonderful music of Christmas.  Having met and talked with Ron, I can tell you he is passionate about working with choirs and bringing them to a new level.  Bravo!

  • Peter Kirchoff

    Thank you Robin and Mr. Cohen for bringing me back forty-four years to the JFK High School Auditorium with my eyes glued to that little baton. The lessons I learned from Mr. Cohen about music and life stay with me always. How cool was Mr. Cohen? He could discuss the merits of the most obscure choral recordings and the latest single by the Beatles with equal authority. Many time before choir practice would begin, I’d play for him a rock n’ roll lick I had finally mastered on the piano and he’d proceed to play it back perfectly after just one listen. Mr. Cohen’s passion for music, regardless of genre, was a profound influence on me, as my i-pod selections attest. He also instilled in his students the discipline to work hard, and work together, to achieve a higher purpose, not a small feat for forty teenagers! To finally sing the pieces in front of an audience after months of practice and hear our voices resonate throughout the auditorium was the reward, and the memory of it still gives me chills. That’s the gift Mr. Cohen gave to his students.
    Go Mr. Cohen!

    Peter Kirchoff
    JFK Choir
    Class of ’68

  • Bagermano

    Ron Cohen is an inspiring teacher.  I agree his selections reveal a true appreciation for the wonderful choral music of Christmas.  I have had the privilege of meeting Ron and he is so passionate about working with choirs and bringing them to a new level.   And what a piano player.  This man can belt out a tune!  Makes me want to go back and take piano lessons all over again.  
    Beth Germano, WBZ-TV

  • Bruce Purrington

    I had been a part of Ron’s life having been the director of his choral feeder program from the JHS for many years. It was my privilege to work with him at developing the early stages of a great choral tradition.  It is most inspiring to see that Ron continues to have a passion for the art by bringing choral music to a larger audience.  May he continue to share that wealth of choral music to all those who would like to be a part of the world
    Bruce R. Purrington, Ed.D.

  • Eileen Callum

    Thanks for bringing Ron Cohen to the airwaves!  It’s one thing to read about all the different holiday concerts, but it’s great when you hear someone discuss the music and then listen to it.  He would be a great addition to WBUR!

  • B Driscoll

    You can tell that Mr. Cohen is a very passionate man for the things he loves. He has not only a great knowledge of music but a real passion to spread this to others. Mr. Cohen is truly great and enthusiastic guest!

  • Janet

    I have worked for the Plainview-Old Bethpage CSD for 28 years.  I remember the first time I heard the voices of the students of Ron Cohen’s choir sing during the holiday season as they walked from office to office spreading cheer.  The beauty of the sound of their voices brought tears to my eyes – they were spectacular.  Ron always gave his all to his students and, in return, they worked tirelessly for him.  My best to you, Ron. – Janet Rutkowski, Old Bethpage, NY

  • Bob Baughman

    Thank you Ms. Young and Mr. Cohen for your engaging program and sharing these beautiful and uplifting Christmas works!  Mr. Cohen exudes passion and is delightfully informative.  Hope to hear more from you both soon.   

  • Kb7818

    What a delight to hear Ron Cohen’s rendition of Hallelujah Chorus.  I enjoy his spirit and enthusiasm…Please bring him back more.  KimSu Marder, Newburyport MA

  • John Heiss

    Thanks again for the wonderful segment, Robin!  I enjoyed seeing the comments.  It is special to see how the various forms of media, new and old have worked together to create something beautiful.  I’m looking forward to hearing another segment with Ron.  His passion really came through.

  • Chuck Schwartz

    A couple of things.

    First of all to Dr. Purrington.  Please don’t sell the Mattlin Chorale short.  It was also a force to be reckoned with.  Plus there was that year that Mr. Cohen went on sabbatical and you led the Choir.  My recollection is that things were much calmer that year.

    Also I found this site on YouTube which has over 15 choir recordings from the 70′s including Vaughn Williams.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rJDGytHN-ig&feature=related  It’s scary to listen to.  We were really good.

    Chuck Schwartz

  • Adam Paltrowitz

    As the choir director who has continued the legacy of the legendary Plainview-Kennedy High School Choir, I am honored and grateful for the tradition instilled by Ron Cohen.  Ron inspired our entire community and built a love and foundation for beautiful music that has continued to this day…….and beyond.

    -Adam Paltrowitz, Plainview-Kennedy HS

  • Brian

    I met Mr. Cohen today, and had a wonderful conversation with him. It’s so nice to hear his thoughts on Christmas and what music means to the world. If only everyone was as informative, passionate, and interesting as Mr. Cohen. Like he said, if you find your passion you won’t have to work a day in your life. I believe Mr. Cohen found his passion quite some time ago, and I hope I can find mine soon too. 

  • Nickcomposer

    HEy Mr Cohen!! Thank you for the gift of music and teaching all of us how to appreciate IT!! Wish you the best Allways,Your Bombastic Bass!! Nick Vanacore!! God bless you for all the good you have done for so Many!!

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