The Twin Cities area has one of the nation's richest choral music scenes. And that is never more evident than this time of year, when most of the ensembles strut their stuff with holiday concerts. Here's a selective guide.

The granddaddy of holiday choral celebrations is VocalEssence's "Welcome Christmas." This year, the focus is on works by Italian and Italian-American composers. In honor of Dominick Argento's 85th birthday year, music from his opera "The Masque of Angels" will be featured, along with works by Menotti and Respighi, featuring soprano Maria Jette. The second half includes more familiar carols, as well as the two winners of the annual Carol Contest.

7:30 p.m. Dec. 1, Colonial Church of Edina, 6200 Colonial Way, Edina; 4 p.m. Dec. 2, Plymouth Congregational Church, 1919 LaSalle Av. S., Mpls.; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 7, Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church, 12650 Johnny Cake Ridge Road, Apple Valley; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 8, Trinity Lutheran Church, 115 N. 4th St., Stillwater; 4 p.m. Dec. 9, Plymouth Congregational Church, 1919 LaSalle Av. S., Mpls. $20-$45, 612-371-5656

For their annual "What Sweeter Music," The Singers present an array of works featuring harpist Min Kim. The program includes Steve Heitzig's "Little Tree" and Abbie Betinis' setting of "In the Bleak Midwinter" along with René Clausen's "Ave Rosa" and Robert Sieving's setting of Shakespeare's "So hallow'd and so gracious is the time," as well as the world premiere of artistic director Matthew Culloton's arrangement of "Still, Still, Still."

7:30 p.m. Dec. 1, St. Olaf Catholic Church, 215 S. 8th St., Mpls.; Dec. 8, Wayzata Community Church, 125 Wayzata Blvd. E., Wayzata; 2 p.m. Dec. 9, Nativity Catholic Church, 1900 Wellesley Av., St. Paul. $10-$30, 651-917-1948,

Ben Riggs, the new artistic director of the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus, has programmed his debut concert, "Our First Noel: A Holiday Homecoming," with an abundance of traditional carols, including "The First Noel," "I Saw Three Ships" and "Joy to the World," along with contemporary classics such as "Silver Bells" and "Christmas Time Is Here" from "A Charlie Brown Christmas." A 1582 "Gaudete!" rubs elbows with a medley of "Music From Hanukkah." And of course, there is the inevitable sprinkling of camp, as with "The Christmas Can Can" and "Our Gay Apparel."

8 p.m. Dec. 7-8, 2 p.m. Dec. 9, Ted Mann Concert Hall, 2128 S. 4th St., Mpls. $25-$53, 612-624-2345 or

For a truly sacred celebration of the season, National Lutheran Choir presents its "Christmas Festival -- Marvel of This Night." The program features musical treasures of the past and contemporary gems combined with poetry, scripture and congregational singing. It's an event that invites people of all faiths to engage in spiritual reflection.

4:30 and 8 p.m. Dec. 7, 8 p.m. Dec. 8, Basilica of St. Mary, 88 N. 17th St., Mpls. $20-$28, 888-747-4589,

Cantus creates a new holiday tradition with its annual "Christmas With Cantus," this year subtitled "Lessons and Carols for Our Time." Building on themes from Minnesota Center for Book Arts' 2012 Winter Book, "Lessons for Our Time," itself inspired by the medieval Book of Hours, the concert expands on the traditional Festival of Lessons and Carols. But it's less sacred and more universal, featuring texts by Elena Cisneros, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman and Paul Gruchow, with music by John Rutter, Abbie Betinis, Jean Sibelius and Franz Biebl.

11 a.m. Dec. 13, Westminster Presbyterian Church 1200 Marquette Av. S., Mpls.; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 14-15, Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, University of St. Thomas, 85 N. Cleveland Av., St. Paul; 3 p.m. Dec. 16, St. Bartholomew Catholic Church, 630 Wayzata Blvd. E., Wayzata; 7:30 p.m. Dec. 17, Cowles Center, 528 Hennepin Av. S., Mpls. $25, 612-435-0055,

Rose Ensemble, fresh from first-place wins in both sacred and secular music categories at the Tolosa Choral Contest in Spain, presents "¡Vamos a Belén! Christmas Revelry in Colonial Latin America." This distinctive program celebrates classical music from Spain as it mingled with indigenous music and African rhythms. Also featured are re-enactments of the holiday pageantry of the Franciscan missions of California and New Mexico.

7 p.m. Dec. 20, Sacred Heart Music Center, 201 W. 4th St., Duluth; 8 p.m. Dec. 21, Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church, 1900 Wellesley Av., St. Paul; 8 p.m. Dec. 22, Basilica of St. Mary, 88 N. 17th St., Mpls.; 5 p.m. Dec. 23, St. Philip the Deacon Lutheran Church, 17205 County Road 6, Plymouth. $15-$37, 651-225-4340,

With "Come to the Cradle," Magnum Chorum sings carols both traditional and new. The program includes an evocation of the mystery of the incarnation by St. Olaf Prof. John Ferguson, and the sweeping melodies of Herbert Howells' "Spotless Rose" and "Jesu Carols" by Stephen Paulus. There are two premieres, by composer-in-residence Benjamin Simmons and by artistic director Christopher Aspaas.

7:30 p.m. Dec. 15, Westwood Lutheran Church, 9001 Cedar Lake Road, St. Louis Park; 2:30 p.m. Dec. 16, Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, University of St. Thomas, 85 N. Cleveland Av., St. Paul. $6-$19,

The Minnesota Orchestra's labor dispute has caused cancellation of the annual performances of Handel's "Messiah" with the Minnesota Chorale. But musicians of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra are partnering with the chorale for a performance, under the baton of former SPCO Music Director Hugh Wolff.

7:30 p.m. Dec 20-21, Central Lutheran Church, 333 S. 12th St., Mpls. $15-$45,

The chorale also presents its annual "Messiah" sing-along, under the direction of artistic director Kathy Saltzman Romey. Audiences are invited to participate in the performance, which will be accompanied by organ.

6:30 p.m. Dec. 2, St. Olaf Catholic Church, 215 S. 8th St., Mpls. Free. 612-455-2100,

William Randall Beard writes regularly about music.