A 2010 performance of the Monmouth Civic Chorus, conducted by Mark Shapiro, at the First Presbyterian Church, Red Bank.

It’s a local holiday tradition of which it’s been said, “It won’t be Christmas without it” — and when the voices and instruments of The Monmouth Civic Chorus assemble in Red Bank on the afternoon of December 18, they’ll return once more to a classic oratorio that formed the heart of the very first MCC concert more than 50 years ago, a work that’s become synonymous with the expression of joy and celebration.

When the familiar notes of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s The Messiah soar toward the grand ceiling of the Count Basie Theatre, however, they’ll carry with them an inaudible but distinctly bittersweet undertone — a realization that the 2011 performance of this seasonal signifier will be the final one under the baton of longtime artistic director Mark Shapiro.

The veteran conductor, who announced his departure effective next spring, has in his 20-plus years at the podium helped the borough-based MCC evolve from a dedicated suburban troupe of “weekend warriors” to an acclaimed and confident force that’s appeared at Carnegie Hall and St. Peter’s Basilica, hosted some top-notch guest soloists — and challenged audiences and vocalists alike with new, unfamiliar, even experimental programming that would be the envy of many big-city chorales.

For the Basie concert, of course, it’s all about the comfort and joy of some favorite holiday choral music — and this coming Saturday and Sunday, lovers of harmonious human voices in all their intricacy and splendor can rejoice in the fact that no less than THREE marvelous organizations will be making some beautiful sounds around the greater Green.

SATURDAY: NJ Chamber Singers in Red Bank. Based, like the MCC, in Red Bank and directed by Reid Masters (NY Philharmonic, Westminster Choir), the New Jersey Chamber Singers has for more 30 years made a specialty of works for smaller vocal ensembles, spanning the eras from Renaissance to right now. On December 10, Red Bank’s United Methodist Church makes a fine and intimate setting as the NJCS performs a compilation of Magnificats by composers that range from Johann Sebastian Bach to the still-active Jonathan Willcocks. Reserve tickets ($20 adults) by email at 247 Broad St., Red Bank • 8-9pm/ $20 ($5 students and under 18)

SATURDAY: Shrewsbury Chorale in Tinton Falls. Now in its 55th season, the local vocal organization known as The Shrewsbury Chorale presents its annual Family Holiday Traditions Christmas Pops concert, on the night of December 10 at Luther Memorial Evangelical Church in Tinton Falls. For this all-ages Yuletide program, the 70 member chorus under the direction of Anthony LaGruth has a couple of treats for young audience members — the musical fable “Brother Heinrich’s Christmas” and an arrangement of “The Night Before Christmas” — as well as a sleighload of favorites that range from old-country hymns (“Gesu Bambino,” “The Wassail Song”) to folk spirituals (“Go Tell It On the Mountain”) and Tin Pan Alley (“White Christmas”). A post-concert reception offers up refreshments and a chance to meet the Chorale company, including new accompanist Mark Cook. Tickets are available at the door for $25 general admission, with senior/ student/ child discounts and advance reservations available at the group’s website. 818 Tinton Ave., Tinton Falls • 8pm/ $25 ($20 students and seniors; $10 children under 12)

SUNDAY: Concordia Chorale in Lincroft. Based out of Red Bank’s Holy Trinity Lutheran Church and now in its eleventh season under the direction of John Balme and Cynthia Springsteen (no relation to The Boss’s “Cynthia“), the Concordia Chorale vocal group visits Middletown United Methodist Church for an adventurous program that includes works by two contemporary composers — “Carols and Lullabies” by Conrad Susa, and “Sing My Soul” by NJ’s own George Gray. Free will offering will be accepted; call (732)495-2066 for more info. 924 Middletown-Lincroft Rd., Lincroft • 5pm/ FREE

Sunday 12/18: Monmouth Civic Chorus in Red Bank. In his notes on the website of The Monmouth Civic Chorus, Mark Shapiro says of Handel’s Messiah, “Whenever it is on the program, I cannot wait to hear the first chords. I know I will be immediately and completely won over by the music’s radiant beauty, its expressive range, its effortless technique, and its ineffable rightness for the voices and instruments.”

The MCC singers and chamber orchestra will perform the “Christmas portion” of The Messiah on December’s Count Basie program, along with a selection of favorite Christmas carols and Hanukah songs, in an afternoon event for which tickets ($25 to $45) are available from the Basie’s online box office.

Shapiro, who also serves as artistic director of Cantori New York, marks his official MCC farewell concert with a performance of Verdi’s “Requiem” in March of 2012. Updates on the next season — as well as the group’s ongoing search for a new artistic director — can be had by watching the pixelated pages of redbankgreen.