Sheet music rustles at the parish hall rehearsal.
The accompanist plays, and some 120 singers launch into a centuries-old, sacred Christmas song under the conductor’s baton.
Vocal parts combine, and a full, round sound emerges. It lifts, falls and rises, evoking a presence as it moves.
The Newburyport Choral Society has been shaping this celebratory sound for months.
On Saturday night and Sunday afternoon, the voices will combine with a brass quintet, performing “Christmas With Brass” for audiences in the historic Belleville Congregational Church in Newburyport.
Choir and brass make a quintessential holiday sound, said music director George Case, interviewed during a break at a rehearsal last week.
“There’s a grandeur to it,” he said.
The program includes “Hodie Christus Natus Est” and “O Magnum Mysterium” by Italian composer Giovanni Gabrieli (1556-1612), as well as works by contemporary Americans Kevin Siegfried and David Pinkham and by contemporary British composer Cecilia McDowall.
Gabrieli was an organist and groundbreaking composer who ushered the transition from Renaissance to Baroque period music, influencing generations of musicians, among them Johann Sebastian Bach.
The Gabrieli selections juxtapose the two forces, brass and choir, each communicating, back and forth, with the other.
Gabrieli composed them for church services in Venice, Italy, and modern ears hear the Old World.
“I think the Gabrieli music reminds us of distant places,” Case said.
Meanwhile, in the Pinkham and McDowall compositions, the brass instruments accompany the choir, making a more unified sound.
These compositions draw upon carols, which ring with familiarity in listeners’ ears, making the music reminiscent of places closer to home, he said.
The Greater Newburyport Children’s Chorus will join the choral society on McDowall’s “Christus Natus Est” and will sing “Moonlight Sleigh Ride” and “The Symphony of Night.”
As always, the entire church, from the choir lofts to the sanctuary floor, will partake in community sings, including “The First Nowell” and “O Come, All Ye Faithful.”
Whether the sounds appear to emanate from afar or near, the concert as a whole engages a rhythm that invites connections, Case said.
“You will hear familiar tunes, familiar tunes sung in different ways, and new tunes, which will become part of our rhythm of life,” Case writes in a program note.
The concert signals the start of the holiday season for many people, the conductor said. Sunday’s performance is already sold out.
For the choral society, the concert is both a beginning and end.
It will be the conclusion of the singers’ work on the winter concert and, with the approaching new year, point toward beginning work on music to be performed in May 2020 at their spring concert, celebrating the choral society’s 85th year with Mendelssohn’s “Elijah.”
“Elijah” will be the last concert with Case, 38, at the helm of the choral society.
And “Christmas With Brass” will be his last winter concert.
Case told the membership this past May that this would be his sixth and final year as conductor. He’s a professor of music at the Boston Conservatory at Berklee College of Music and conducts choral groups there.
The choral society’s president and bass section leader, Solomon Berman, said that Case, as an educator and caring man, has shaped and motivated the Newburyport chorus.
“George has a way of giving comfort and confidence,” said Berman, who lives in North Andover.
That comfort will be on display and communicated at the winter concert, a peaceful gathering where the community bonds, Berman said.
Meanwhile, on this night, the singers, bundled in sweaters and other thick winter wear, get back to rehearsal. Case, in jeans, flannel shirt and vest, guides his chorus members through measures with subtle qualities, refining the presentation.
Come concert time, the singers and Case will be decked in formal attire, joining the brass quintet, accompanist Kirsten Helgeland on the church’s historic Stevens pipe organ, the children’s choir and audience in a musical celebration of the holiday season.
If you go
What: Newburyport Choral Society Winter Concert
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Belleville Congregational Church, 300 High St., Newburyport
How much: $25 for adults and $23 for seniors and students if purchased ahead of time; $30 at the door
Ticket outlets: Greater Newburyport Chamber of Commerce, 38R Merrimac St., Newburyport; Jabberwocky Bookshop, 50 Water St., Newburyport; The Coffee Factory, 56 State St., Newburyport; The Natural Grocer, 334 High St., Newburyport; Starbird Jewelers, 80 Main St., Amesbury; Conley’s Drug Store, 146 High St., Ipswich; and www.newburyportchoralsociety.org