The Bach and Handel Chorale welcomed the Christmas season this weekend with their first of three annual Christmas concerts.

The concert began with a candle-lit procession, led by soloist Angela Mosley singing "Once in Royal David's City." She was soon joined by her fellow chorale members, who processed through the darkened St. Mark's sanctuary holding brightly lit candles.

Chorale founder and director Randall Douglas Perry welcomed the overflowing crowd to the concert, noting that he was proud to call their annual concert series a "Christmas" concert.

"We do not call this a holiday concert. We call this a Christmas concert," he said, to which the crowd responded with applause.

During the performance, Perry noted that the concert was dedicated to the memory of Audrey Hart, a dedicated member of the chorale for many years. He thanked her family members for attending the concert.

"She always had a song in her heart, and a loving and generous spirit," said Perry. "We thank God that Audrey was with us. She brought a lot of laughter and a lot of joy."

The concert included a number of popular classical and contemporary Christmas songs, including "Gesu Bambino (The Infant Jesus)," "God Rest You Merry, Gentlemen," and "Es ist ein Ros (There is a Flower)," an arrangement by Perry using German lyrics set to the familiar sounds of "Lo, How a Rose E'er Blooming."

There were several nods to the chorale's namesakes, including Bach's "Herrscher des Himmels, erhore das Lallen (Ruler of Heaven," from "Christmas Oratorio."

Perry also offered an intricate piano piece that he arranged, "O Come, O Come Emmanuel." He noted that the arrangement was inspired by the plainsong tradition.

He introduced the cheerful, childlike song "Morning Star, O Cheering Sight" by noting that this traditional Christmas song is typically used to usher in Christmas Day.

"In the Moravian tradition, this song is often song on Christmas Eve by a child soloist," said Perry, introducing young soloist Sophia Samoleski, a piano student of Perry and voice student of Joel Sager.

"The chorale members fell in love with her immediately. You will see why," he added, then stepped back to let Samoleski perform with a sweet, innocent voice.

Guests were also invited to join the chorale for several Christmas carols, including "Silent Night" and "Joy to the World."

Perry jokingly said that the audience's performance would be used as an informal audition to recruit new members for the chorale. He added that open auditions will be held in the spring.

"If you love to sing Bach, if you love to sing Handel or the works of the masters, please come and audition," he said.

The chorale ended the concert with the cheerful and celebratory "Rejoice and Be Merry" and their signature "Hallelujah Chorus" from Handel's "Messiah."

The Bach and Handel Chorale will hold two additional Christmas concerts on Saturday, Dec. 8 at 3 p.m. at St. John's Lutheran Church, 106 Main St. in Ringtown, and Sunday, Dec. 9 at 3 p.m. at St. Paul's United Church of Christ, 1249 Trexlertown Road in Trexlertown.

The chorale will host an Easter Concert on Saturday, April 6 at St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Race Street in Jim Thorpe, featuring the Festival Orchestra. There will also be a benefit concert on Saturday, May 18 at 3 p.m. at the Tamaqua Community Arts center.

The Bach and Handel Chorale was founded by Perry in 1984 to celebrate the 300th anniversaries of Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel.

Based in Jim Thorpe, the chorale is an active member of the American Bach Society and performs frequently throughout Carbon County and eastern Pennsylvania.

For more information on upcoming events or to learn more about the Chorale, visit www.bachandhandelchorale.org.