Chorally, the Christmas season began a week or so ago, but the Kennedy Center's festivities were formally kicked off last night by the Paul Hill Chorale with its annual "Candlelight Concert" in the Concert Hall.

This was a gentle affair that opened with the traditional processional "Once in Royal David's City" and closed with the singers in the aisles singing "Silent Night." In between were sweet carols by contemporary British composers Sir David Willcocks, Alfred Burt and John Rutter, sung with quiet but resonant clarity; a set of carols by Washington area composers that included a well-crafted setting of a John Donne poem by chorale member Robert L. Passow Jr.; and some other nice and relatively unfamiliar songs. Organ, harp, flute and bells lent atmosphere as well as support, and the whole performance was exceptionally well coordinated.

As they have for several years, the children of the Chevy Chase Elementary School Chorus joined the chorale for a delightful set of beautifully prepared pieces. Director Joan Gregoryk really has her 80 fifth- and sixth-grade singers trained. Their pitch is excellent, their diction is exemplary, and they have the sort of discipline that a fine performance requires. With the chorale, they sang with poise and accuracy, and on their own they also had a marvelous sense of style.

The concert will be repeated Dec. 19 and 21.