To open its holiday concert, Dec. 12 at Schein Hall, the BIG ARTS Community Chorus greeted its enthusiastic audience with a version of “surround sound.” The Chorus’s nearly 60 singers, clustering in all aisles of the hall, serenaded their happy listeners, up close and personally, with a colorful rendition of “Sing Noel,” before gathering onstage for an exuberant evening of fun.

We wanted to bring back good memories of Christmases past and convey gratitude and joy for this holiday season,” the Chorus’s director Ellen Whitten said.

And convey they did. Accompanied by only a pair of hand drums, choristers and leader energized the crowd with their effortless performance of this African carol.

Whitten, who is in her second season as the Chorus’s director, is especially proud of her ensemble. “We have strong leaders in each section—with very good high sopranos and spot-on altos. All the singers work hard on blend, and they are willing to try anything,” she said, adding, “Rehearsals are like a bunch of friends getting together. We respond to one another really well.”

The concert was a mashup of familiar Christmas tunes interspersed with more exotic fare—plus a world première. The Chorus’s accompanist Erik Entwistle composed “Sanibel Under Snow” especially for the occasion, and concert-goers were the first to hear it.

Sanibel Under Snow” is a whimsical—and completely imaginary—picture of the Island suffering through a winter blizzard. “You can hear the sound of the snow swirling everywhere, in a minor key,” Whitten said. “As the snow melts, the music switches to major, and all is right with the world.

Erik dedicated this piece to the Chorus,” she added. “We are delighted to give it its debut.”

The piece equalized an accentuated choral texture with sophisticated pianism, which Entwistle navigated with ease. Long-rolling and densely textured piano passages symbolized a thick blanket of snow covering the city. Above the piano part’s unusual harmonic twists and turns, the chorus intoned playful lyrics: “Icicles dangling from coconut fronds” and “cross-country skiing on Ding Darling’s trails.”

With its mixing meters and rhythms, “Sanibel Under Snow” posed a challenge for the chorus, “but we just kept ploughing ahead through the snow—to reach the sunshine,” Whitten said.

The Promise of Living” by American composer Aaron Copland was another standout of the night. It featured the chorus with a piano-duet accompaniment superbly performed by Entwistle and chorister cum pianist Richard Mattern.

Taken from the composer’s opera, “The Tender Land,” “The Promise of Living” opens with gentle bell-like passages in the piano part and voices serenely hovering above in the atmosphere. Building from quiet to an intense climax, the voices meander toward and away from one another. Toward the end, they come together for a final hymn, then subside again into quietude.

That was hard to sing,” Whitten said after the performance. “I am so proud of these singers. They pretty much nailed it.”

As an extra, added attraction, three of the choristers came forward to invoke the ghosts of Peter, Paul and Mary. Bill O’Brien, Jack Kennedy and Char Gulbrandsen did the honors, giving a dramatic reading of “Light One Candle.” One of the more serious moments in the concert, their performance gave full meaning to the story of Hanukah, the Jewish Festival of Lights.

The evening could not have been complete without the traditional sing-along of old favorites. Turning to the audience, Whitten led one and all in jubilant performances of “Silver Bells,” “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas,” “Jingle-Bell Rock,” “I Have a Little Dreidel,” and, of course, the perennial crowd pleaser, “White Christmas.”

As Whitten promised, the BIG ARTS Community Chorus’s charming concert filled hearts with nostalgia, amusement and joy. Enduringly popular with Islanders, it was an evening not to be missed.