Cantata uses universal language, music, to tell Christmas story

Chris Hildebrant (left) and Rachael Schwaller take a break from rehearsals. The pair will co-direct the 18th annual Central Montana Christmas Cantata Sunday and Monday. Tickets are free and available now at Keystone Christian Supply, Lewistown News-Argus, Don’s Store and First Presbyterian Church.


Photo by Charlie Denison





The co-directors of the annual Christmas Cantata have thoroughly enjoyed three months of rehearsals and now hope Central Montanans will enjoy the results.

“I hope the audience is just able to relax and enjoy the whole experience,” said Rachael Schwaller, “from listening to the beautiful narrative by pastor Lynne Ogren to enjoying the subtleties of each piece.”

And for Chris Hildebrant the Cantata is “the beginning of the Christmas celebration.  It really sets the intention of Christmas for me, and I hope the audience can have that experience, too.”

Central Montanans will soon be able to enjoy the work of the two directors and more than 60 area residents representing a dozen churches.

The 18th annual Cantata - “Worship Christ the Newborn King” - will be held Sunday, Dec. 3 (two shows, 2 and 7:30 p.m.) and Monday, Dec. 4 (7:30 p.m.), hosted by First Presbyterian Church, 215 Fifth Avenue South.

Tickets are available now at Keystone Christian Supply, Lewistown News-Argus, Don’s Store and First Presbyterian Church.  They are free, but seating is limited.

“I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the many fine musicians that involve themselves in the Cantata,” said Hildebrant.  “We are so fortunate to have such a vibrant artistic community in Lewistown.  I would encourage anyone who can to attend one of the performances.”

Hildebrant is the choir director at Fergus High School and Lewis & Clark Elementary while Schwaller is Lewistown’s kindergarten-4th grade music teacher.  This is their second year of co-directing the Cantata.

Both bring wonderful enthusiasm and talent to the varied selections that will be performed this year.

“Music is a universal language that speaks to our emotions,” said Schwaller.  “I think the musical selections will draw the audience into really feeling the Christmas story.

“From upbeat songs that evoke joy like ‘Jubilate Deo’ and the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ to more reverent songs like ‘When the Kingdom Comes’ and ‘Before the Throne of God Above’ that allow the listener to feel peace.” 

“We have a varied selection of music for this year’s performances that take the listener from the reflective nature of Christmas to the supreme joy and celebration,” said Hildebrant.

His favorite is John Rutter’s adaptation of “Rejoice and Be Merry.”  “An absolutely fabulous setting of a traditional English carol,” he said, “it features Brian Priest on organ and Donna Byerly on the handbell part.”

For Schwaller, it was hard to pick a favorite.

“I really like all of the pieces to direct and feel like there are special moments in each one,” she said.  “The one that is probably the most fun for me is ‘Whisper, Whisper’ just because it’s an a capella spiritual with a lot of dynamics, and I feel like the singers really get into it.

“I love the prayerful middle section of ‘When the Kingdom Comes’ because it’s a beautiful message of Christmas and has such beautiful harmony.

“I’ve also liked conducting the men’s piece, ‘Mary Did You Know?’ because I have never worked with just male voices and the song is so rich with their warm sound.

“As a director,” she said, “I can’t help but hope one song will move the audience so much that they may cry and another song may move them to dancing.  That’s the beauty of the variety of songs and the human experience with music; the listener gets to make the experience their own.”

Both directors said the Cantata has allowed them to work with and get to know a different part of the community than the young people with whom they work every day.

“I enjoy working with musicians that I don’t normally get the chance to work with,” said Hildebrant, “and I enjoy the contrast of working with adults as opposed to younger people at the schools.”

Schwaller says the Cantata “brings together the whole community to celebrate the Christmas story through song.  Everyone supports each other, and hearing the growth of the whole group from September to December is incredible.

“I love the dedication of the participants and think it is amazing when we are rehearsing and have a moment where the music really comes together.

“The Cantata takes a lot of people,” she said, “and I am so grateful to be a small part of this great tradition.  The accompanists, musicians, singers, sound technicians, and all the other people who put in countless hours to make it a success cannot be thanked enough.”

Cantata organizers stress that seating is limited for the upcoming performances.  Anyone who takes a ticket but cannot attend is urged to return it as quickly as possible to one of the outlets as demand each year has been more than seats available.

For more information, contact the First Presbyterian Church, 538-3728; email:


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