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Singing the town into Christmas

ryan mcgaughey/daily globe Galen Benton (from left), Louise Wickstrom and The Rev. Arlen Foss, along with Kris Besel and Steve Lynn (both not pictured) comprise the ALBs, who are performing their 15th holiday concert this Sunday.

WORTHINGTON -- A 15-year-old Worthington tradition will continue when the ALBs deliver their annual concert, benefiting the Community Christmas Baskets program, at 3:30 p.m. next Sunday.

A festive musical hour awaits all comers as the open admission event, at which a free-will offering will be taken, promises to share some seasonal favorites along with a sprinkling of newer selections.

"Our theme is 'Tis the Season,'" said The Rev. Arlen Foss, who puts the "A" in ALBs. "Tis the season to be jolly and celebrate, but also to remember the importance of Christmas and its true meaning."

More than 35 people will entertain -- either instrumentally, vocally or with a reading -- and Foss continues to lead the core ALBs -- keyboardist Louise Wickstrom, vocalist Kris Besel, percussionist Steve Lynn and bass player Galen Benton.

In addition, the seventh- and eighth-grade Worthington Middle School orchestra students, under the direction of Melanie Loy, will play a couple of seasonal selections.

"This concert is a community kickoff for the Christmas season, and the offering received for the Christmas baskets is very important to that program," Foss said. "All of the free-will offering -- 100 percent -- goes to the Christmas basket effort, because our auditorium rent is covered by our generous sponsor, First State Bank Southwest."

A variety of music is on tap, ranging from the contemporary and contemplative "Mary, Did You Know" to John Denver's "Cowboy Christmas" to the reverent "O, Holy Night."

"There will be three different vocal quartets and a good bit of humor thrown in, as well," Foss said. "The Rev. Irwin Van Leeuwen is our emcee again this year, and it is our second time at Memorial Auditorium.

"The show will unfold by itself."

It's the low-pressure nature of the ALBs concert that keeps one of the founding ALBs members -- Wickstrom, as well as eight-year ALBs veteran Besel -- coming back.

"It's a fun, relaxed atmosphere," Besel said. "Some concerts are more formal, but this one's light-hearted and puts you in the Christmas mood, with fun songs you know and remember."

Two of Besel's personal favorites are "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas" and "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas."

"Those numbers really emphasize getting in the Christmas spirit," Besel said. "And I like that people use the ALBs concert as a vehicle to donate to the Christmas baskets.

"I enjoy singing with Arlen, too," she continued. "He puts his heart into it and is pretty easy-going. We just have a good time."

Wickstrom agrees.

"It's a joy to work with these guys -- they're such a good group -- and it isn't work, really, it's just fun," Wickstrom said. "My time with the ALBs is well-spent, and my word, I can't believe we've been doing this for 15 years.

"It's good to know people in need may have benefited from the funds our concerts have raised."

For Wickstrom, the ALBs' traditional closing number --a combination carol of "Peace/Silent Night" sung along with the audience -- is what really caps off the concert.

"That's my all-time favorite," admitted Wickstrom. "It's a touching piece, and when the audience comes in, and the descant is sung --ooh, I can't see my music."

Since Wickstrom likely has the notes mostly memorized after all these years, she makes it through the emotional moment and is able to keep playing like the experienced musician she is.

"When we're all sharing in that moment together, it really brings the Christmas season into your heart," she said.

Added Besel, "We just hope people will turn out for the concert to hear some of their Christmas favorites and throw some money into the plate for the Christmas baskets."

The 15th annual ALBs concert --"Tis the Season" -- will take place at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at Memorial Auditorium, 714 13th St., Worthington. There is no admission fee and no reserved seating; a free-will offering, 100 percent of which will benefit the Nobles County Community Christmas Baskets program, will be taken.