OAKLAND -- Two performances by the Oakland Symphony Chorus will leave no doubt of the 55-year-old troupe's venerable command of vocal classics as the 2013-14 season commences. From the roar of American gospel music to the glory of George Frideric Handel's "Messiah" to the gentlest of Johannes Brahms' Liebeslieder Waltzes, music director Dr. Lynne Morrow's chorus brings high-quality music to the community.

The 120-member chorus will start its season with 62 chorus members joined by eight participants of an 11-week community workshop and guest pianists at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at First Covenant Church, 4000 Redwood Road. The performance mingles Brahms love songs and piano solos with a virtual sonic charm bracelet featuring the Chorus Chamber Ensemble singing "Amazing Grace" and Engelbert Humperdinck's "Evening Prayer" from Hansel and Gretel. "Benedict," by Sondra Clark, and Sandy Cressman's "When the Night" round out the program.

But Brahms is the featured item and under Morrow's consistent guidance, the results of the intensive workshop will likely show off her professional-level standards. Every other year, the OSC invites people in the community to participate in the choir by enrolling in a workshop. This year, the $100 fee allowed interested adult singers to train and perform in the free-to-the-public November concert.

"The symphony chorus requires an audition," said chorus administrator Tina Newton. "The average singer gets freaked out over auditions, even though our music director is great at putting people at ease."

Instead, the workshop serves as a less stressful audition and the fee goes toward membership dues, if workshop participants choose to continue and become members. Newton, who's been with the OSC for 11 years, said people enjoy singing repertoire they don't often have opportunity to learn and the workshop serves as an effective tool for recruiting new members.

The libretto for Brahms' Liebeslieder Waltzes will be read aloud and Newton said Morrow is eager to bring the rarely performed works to the community. Because there is no entry fee, Newton said the concert is an effort to build recognition of the choir's importance and skill.

Morrow's loyal followers and vocal music industry watchdogs credit her with expanding the OSC repertoire beyond the classics. Critics and audiences applaud the excellence she brings from her position as head of the opera and music theater programs at Sonoma State University. There's no surprise then, that a sneak peek of the April 2014 Palm Sunday performance of Handel's "Messiah" at Oakland's Cathedral of Christ the Light will slip into the OSC's Dec. 15 "Let Us Break Bread Together" Annual Holiday Celebration with the Oakland East Bay Symphony and guest artists.

"We'll do just one movement, as a little teaser," Newton said.

And although there'll be plenty of smiles at the symphony's 25-year-old, nontraditional holiday concert, the repertoire served up will be no joke. It remains the Bay Area's best bargain, with the symphony and chorus joined by the Mt. Eden High School Choir, Kugelplex, Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Linda Tillery's Cultural Heritage Choir, Crystal Children's Choir, Larry Batiste, and Claytoven Richardson.

Under the gods and goddesses decorating the Paramount Theatre's art deco ceiling, the angelic sound of children's voices give way to the massive thunderbolt of the combined choirs. Along the way, the history of music is represented by repertoire from around the world and across the ages. In addition to selections from "Messiah," performed with the OEBS, the OSC will showcase Conrad Susa's "Fum, Fum, Fum" and audiences will sing along in a time-honored tradition at the often sold-out concert.

FYI
Tickets for Oakland Symphony Chorus season performances are priced from $15 to $40. For tickets and more information, visit www.oaklandsymphonychorus.org or call 510-207-4093.