The New Era - All about Sweet Home since 1929

Christmas Tree to sing again

Holiday perennial returns following three-year hiatus


November 30, 2022

Scott Swanson

Singing Christmas Tree members and volunteers work last week in the Sweet Home High School Auditorium to construct the risers that will form the tree structure during this weekend's concerts.

After a three-year hiatus, the Singing Christmas Tree will return this weekend, Dec. 2-4, with three performances and what organizers hope will be a large flavor of normalcy.

This will be the choir's 40th annual performance series and organizers said they're excited to finally get back on their Christmas tree-shaped riser, which some two dozen volunteers erected last week in the Sweet Home High School Auditorium.

The choir will perform its Christmas program at 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, Dec. 2-3, with a 3 p.m. matinee Sunday, Dec. 4, in the Sweet Home High School auditorium, 1641 Long St. Admission is free, but donations are welcome.

"It's just been super awesome this year," Director John Kluttz said, noting that choir participation numbers are up considerably from last year and contributions have been pouring in from the community, many unsolicited.

This year's choir has 35 singers, nearly double the number who participated in last year's effort to get the program going again, which came to naught.

Kluttz, in his third year as director after missing the two COVID years, described this year's program as "a combination of 40 years of some of our best, what we consider to be our favorites from the last 40 years."

He said it will include both sacred and secular numbers, "standards that the choir has grown to love over the years."

"One of the big ones – I don't even know how long the choir has done it – is 'My Heart is Bethlehem.'" Another is "Let the Tiny Baby Come In."

"The choir has done it so many times over the years, but still, people just love it," said Kluttz, who participated himself as a high school student and following, as he moved on to Oregon State University, where he graduated with a bachelor's degree in choral conducting and a master's degree in music education. He taught music for years in Albany before taking his current job as a manager with a pest control company, he said.

Choir President Ben Mattheisen said a big goal for the group this year has been to rebuild "trust" from the community.

"We represent 40 years of legacy in this community," he said. "We've thought about that a lot as an organization. What do we do? What is the impact we have on the community? How do they see us?"

He added that the choir's goal is to "hold true to what Connie (Nice) and Paul (Rowton Sr.) started 40 years ago."

The Singing Christmas Tree's last performance was in 2019, and the COVID situation kept things on hold until this year. The choir made an effort to return last year, holding practices and maintaining momentum literally until the last minute, when leaders decided they couldn't pull it off.

"We couldn't guarantee the safety of the public," Mattheisen said, so they decided to cancel the performances when it came time to put up the structure.

Mattheisen said the choir has had "overwhelming support" this year, totaling some $5,000 as of last week – "three times as much as we've ever had before."

After covering costs – which range from general liability to miscellaneous upgrades, and advertising, he said, the choir plans to share its largess with other groups in the community.

"We have an active Facebook poll," Mattheisen said. "We're asking people to nominate organizations."

The choir is also planning to offer scholarship money to students interested in pursuing careers in the arts.

File photo

Director John Kluttz, right, speaks to the audience during the 2019 Singing Christmas Tree performance.

The ultimate purpose of the concerts is "to provide a gift to Sweet Home," he said.

Mattheisen said that this year the choir has come together such that when practices started in October, "everything was on point and we were going in the right direction and every step of the way, it's just things are happening because it's meant to happen and we're not forcing anything.

"It's been really, really great. It makes us feel good that we're doing the right thing."

The performances will be "a great celebration of what the Singing Christmas Tree is."

It will be narrated by Paul Rowton Jr., son of one of the founders.

"It will be entertaining but purposeful, still telling our story about Jesus Christ, but also creating a great experience for the audience," Mattheisen said.

"I'm very excited about this."


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