Bel Canto Chorale's annual "Festival of Lessons and Carols" delighted concert-goers last weekend in Burlington.

From the opening prelude, a medley of Christmas music by the Southeast Iowa Brass Quintet, to the rousing "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" finale by a houseful of happy concertgoers, December's looming gloom was blown back Sunday by Bel Canto Chorale's annual "Festival of Lessons and Carols" concert.

Toss in the Shoquoquon Children's Choir, and the concert at First United Methodist Church in Burlington was a gold medal winner.

The audience jumped right in on the processional, "O Come All Ye Faithful" to introduce a warm welcome by the Rev. Melisa Bracht-Wagner of United Methodist. Everyone then settled down for nearly two hours of superb seasonal vocal compositions leavened with lessons from the Bible, as read by area residents.

Bracht-Wagner cautioned the crowd to silence all cellphones, but her "No, really" I-mean-it followup silenced the subsequent chuckling.

Bel Canto was, as always, fluid, sweet and tight, but it was the kids who brought out the biggest smiles with their numbers, co-anchored by Shoquoquon directors Emma Gobble and Megan Howard.

Shoquoquon pianist Tracy Reif was a treat as well: She stayed right on top of her keyboard and sheet music, leading the pitch and beat for the kids while diving into each song with enthusiasm.

Burlington's mayor, the Rev. Shane McCampbell, was there to read Luke 2:8-16, "The shepherds go to the manger."

"This is excellent," McCampbell said of Bel Canto's annual offering. "This is one of the highlights of the Christmas season."

Bel Canto director Jacob Yochum had the look and verve of a man who just stepped out of a scene with Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

And it's great to hear human voices and instruments that aren't spewing from speakers and curdling from cellphones. Just raw human power riding the air, not the airwaves.

David Hoth, son of Katie Hoth, who read the Fifth Lesson, is a former Shoquoquon Children's Choir tenor taking a brief break from singing to focus on other aspects of being a sixth-grader at Great River Christian School. He caught the show from the balcony.

"It was really fun because of all the new people," Hoth said. "You know, the fourth-graders."

Hoth said Yochum is doing a great job directing Bel Canto.

"He's a great guy."

A trumpet accompaniment by Jeremy Henman helped the kids track a melody on the not-so-familiar "Sing Out with Praise," and a brief solo by Amanda Brent on the lovely "Morning Star" put satin finishing touches on the afternoon.

On Saturday night, Bel Canto also performed "Lessons and Carols."

Two of the brightest moments were the arrangement of "Silent Night" by Chip Davis, better known as Mannheim Steamroller, and "Sweet Songs of Christmas."

The lone sad moment came when "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing" ended with late-afternoon echoes as everyone realized another year must pass before they can do again what they had just done.