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Volume 26, Number 5 — May 2019

Cantemus Women’s Choir part of family holiday tradition

Cantemus Women’s Choir performs at Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina.
Cantemus Women’s Choir performs at Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina.

By Leslie Grace | A! Magazine for the Arts | November 28, 2018

Cantemus Women’s Choir, directed by Patricia Denmark, first performed at Biltmore Estate, Asheville, North Carolina, in 2015.

“I knew about the opportunity to sing at Biltmore because my son had been in East Tennessee Children’s Choir and Highlands Youth Ensemble, and my husband and I had been going there to watch him sing with those groups for years. So after my choir (which I formed in 2014) had its inaugural concert, I knew I wanted them to have the Biltmore ‘Candlelight’ experience, so I sent a recording to Biltmore so that they would consider us for a Christmas performance. I was told something to the effect of ‘thank you for your interest in our Candlelight concert series, but it may be several years before we have an opening.’ But early in the fall of 2015, I was contacted by Biltmore. They had several openings in the schedule, which needed to be filled and would we like to take one of those. That year we ended up performing on the day after Christmas, and this year we are performing for the fourth year in a row. The Saturday after Thanksgiving has become sort of our regular date.

“The decorations, the music, the building and grounds all combine to make it a special night, one that members of my choir have begun to think of as the start of their Christmas traditions each year. It is a magical, special night, especially if it’s cold, and I get to share my beautiful choir with people who otherwise wouldn’t get to hear them It’s always been extra special for me, because of the timing. My children (who are musicians) are usually home for the holidays, and they and my husband also perform with the choir. It becomes a real family affair for us,” Denmark says.

The Biltmore provides musicians guidelines on what they’d prefer the groups perform. They want it to music that might actually have been performed at the Biltmore. Denmark picks carols and songs that existed when the Biltmore was a working/living house.

“We do a combination of contemporary arrangements of traditional carols, spirituals and folk music, traditional carols straight out of the hymnal (with string accompaniment courtesy of my children Kenny and Bryant), Baroque or Renaissance music, or pieces like ‘O Holy Night,’ which actually existed back then. We do contemporary music that is in the character of music that would have been performed at Biltmore. I try very hard to choose things that would please our Biltmore hosts. Scattered throughout the night, I’ll have soloists from the choir sing, and they also follow these guidelines when selecting their music,” Denmark says.

Cantemus Women’s Choir performed at Biltmore Estates during November. They can be heard locally Sunday, Dec. 16 at 4 p.m., at Holy Trinity Lutheran in Kingsport, Tennessee. The concert features Benjamin Britten’s “Ceremony of Carols,” with harp. It also features contemporary settings of traditional carols like “Silent Night” and “Wexford Carol,” as well as the medieval piece “Personent Hodie” and a lush, contemporary setting of “O Magnum Mysterium” by Ivo Antognini.

For more information about the choir, visit

Ellis and Parker’s Bittersweet Two performs at Biltmore

Topics: Music