ART If conceptual art left you cold and postminimalism left you confused, two new exhibitions at the Hirshhorn -- Joel Shapiro: Painted Wood" and "Sol Lewitt: Works" -- could begin to change all that. Shapiro's sculpture, especially the tough but enduring wooden works, is splendid -- there is a sense of empathy, of an artist working and thinking. And "Works," created in and around the Hirshhorn, now embraces the third-floor landing escalator, with giant cubes and pyramids, tilting and tumbling into and out of the surrounding space, obliterating corners and reversing themselves in playful illusions. CLASSICAL MUSIC You know Christmas is coming in the Washington area when the Wolf Trap Christmas Carol Sing-Along begins. That will happen this afternoon in the Filene Center, with the U.S. Marine Corps Band and 25 area choirs and choral groups inciting the audience to participate. Other Christmas music today: the Washington Bach Consort presents Bach's Christmas Oratorio, this afternoon and evening (it takes a while) in the National Presbyterian Church; the New Century Singers in Mennin's "A Christmas Story" in the Publick Playhouse, Cheverly; the Christian Parish Oratorio Singers and Orchestra performing Handel's "Messiah" at the Reston Community Center; the Capitol Hill Choral Society in a program that includes the premiere of Charles Callahan's "Three Christmas Motets," in the Riverside Baptist Church (and next Sunday in the Capitol Hill United Methodist Church); the Trinity College Chamber Singers and Chamber Players in the O'Conner Art Gallery; the Chancel Choir of North Chevy Chase Christian Church in "Christmas Now," a concert of 20th-century music.

Later in the week Christmas music highlights will include the University of Maryland Chorale performing Respighi's "Laud to the Nativity," Tuesday night in the Memorial Chapel; the Cathedral Choral Society, with the Washington Cathedral Choir of Boys and Men and the National Symphony Brass Quintet, Saturday and Sunday, in the Washington Cathedral; and the Folger Consort, beginning an 11-concert series with soloists and the London School Boys Choir Friday night at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Other concerts worth noting: the Washington Men's Camerata, Friday and Saturday in Christ Episcopal Church; the Gay Men's Chorus, Friday and Saturday in the Church of the Epiphany; the George Mason University Symphony Orchestra, Symphonic Chorus and University Chorale, Saturday and next Sunday nights in the Harris Theatre, George Mason University; the Laurel Oratorio Society, performing Britten's "Ceremony of Carols" and Poulenc's Four Motets for Christmastide in hymns and carols, Saturday night in St. Mary's Church, Laurel.

Raymond Leppard will be the National Symphony Orchestra's guest conductor this week, with Bruno Gelber as guest pianist for Ravel's Concerto in G. Pianist Rudolf Serkin has canceled his recital next Sunday at the Kennedy Center (Andre'-Michel Schub will be the excellent substitute), but otherwise it looks like a prime week for pianists. They will include: Peter Serkin, playing Mozart, Chopin, Lieberson and Beethoven, Thursday night in the Terrace Theater; Andre' Watts, Friday night in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall; Haskell Small, this afternoon in the Chevy Chase Community Center; Thomas Schumacher, this afternoon in the Lyceum, Alexandria; and Anne Marie McDermott, Saturday night at the University of Maryland.

Highlighting the week's chamber music concerts will be the Da Capo Chamber Players in a very imaginative program, Friday night in the Library of Congress. Other programs worth noting: Alexa Still, flutist, with pianist Frank Corliss, today at the Phillips Collection; the Hampton Schwartz Duo, today at the Third Street Church of God; the George Mason University Chamber Ensembles, tonight in the Harris Theatre; the Music Connection with violinist Elisabeth Adkins performing Stravinsky's "L'Histoire du Soldat" and Ned Rorem's "Winter Pages," Monday night in the National Woman's Democratic Club; guitarist William Feasley, Wednesday night in Strathmore Hall; sitarist Vilayat Kan, Friday night in the Ripley Center Lecture Hall, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery; the Emerson String Quartet, Saturday in Baird Auditorium; and the Friday Morning Music Club, Friday noon in the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church.

The Washington premiere of Gian Carlo Menotti's "Five Songs for Tenor" will be given tonight at the National Gallery by tenor Joseph Porrello, for whom the work was composed. Other vocal recitals this week will feature tenor Michael Hume with guitarist David Starobin and pianist William Huckaby, Saturday night in the Terrace Theater; and soprano Dawn Upshaw with pianist Margo Garrett, Saturday at the Library of Congress. DANCE A dance-theater troupe from England, The Kosh, continues its run at Baltimore's Theatre Project today and resuming Wednesday through Sunday (through Dec. 20).

At Dance Place this afternoon, Shapiro & Smith Dance gives its program of duets a final time.

The Nina Wiener Dance Company performs as part of the "Dance America" series, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater.

The Royal Spanish National Ballet makes its Washington debut with six performances at the Kennedy Center Opera House, Wednesday through Sunday.

On Friday and Saturday evenings and Sunday afternoon, the Dance Place offers a two-part program of dance and performance art featuring, in Part One, Steven Krieckhaus, in five solos and a duet with Eric Schoefer, and in part two, performance artist Paul Zaloom and his "Theater of Trash." FILM "Eat the Peach," the new film by the Irish filmmaker Peter Ormrod, creates its own special mood of dampened exhilaration. Set in an economically depressed area of central Ireland, it's an atmospheric, lyrical film about ordinary people, but it's not downbeat. It has a head-clearing, tonic effect, like a brisk walk through the cold. The movie, which collects a cast of well-known Irish stage actors, is about a group of Irish men and women caught up in the grip of an impossible dream. After viewing a video tape of the 1964 Elvis film "Roustabout," Vinnie (Stephen Brennan), whose regular job is repairing farm equipment, decides to build a wall of death -- a high-walled, barrel-shaped cylinder in which a motorcycle and rider are suspended in midair by centrifugal force -- like the one in the film. The project is one of those life-sustaining follies that spring forth with crystalline lucidity from the minds of dreamers and are totally incomprehensible to everyone else. And the movie is itself an comic ode to cracked dreams and insupportable leaps of creative faith. Taking its title from T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," it establishes an ineffable, highly perishable tone and sustains it. And along the way you're drawn into its heightened sense of the improbable, the incongruously daft. The homespunness of the project has a kind of double resonance: It refers both to the characters' efforts and the filmmakers'. POP MUSIC There'll always be an England and as long as there is, there'll always be a Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction, with a lot of overseas press clippings, making a first American foray at the Bayou on Monday.

Czechoslovakia's beleaguered Jazz Section is the focus of Monday's Freedom Concert at Duke Ellington High School, featuring Sonny Rollins, Billy Taylor and others.

Al Dimeola: luminous guitar, Tuesday at the Bayou.

Little miss dynamite Stephanie Mills has three concerts at Constitution Hall, one on Thursday, two on Friday.

Jim Carroll has disbanded his backup and gone back to reading his poetry without music, but the reeling rhythms of rock still fuel his words and few people have gotten to the heart of New York's "lower depths" better. Carroll reads at d.c. space Friday.

Kansas' Rainmakers make proud and political rock that moves hearts and minds. At the 9:30 Saturday. THEATER In "The Redthroats" (at the Studio Theatre), British monologuist David Cale narrates and enacts the story of Steven Weird, an alienated British lad who "wants to be a legend ... like Judy Garland," survives a dreary lower-class childhood and, by the end, makes it onto a plane bound for America, "where all the legends are." Absurd, comic, surrealistic by turns, the hour-long show is an unpretentious delight.