Rounding the corner into the winter season, there are things all can look forward to: the crispness of freshly fallen snow, a mug of hot chocolate and celebrating holiday traditions. One unique tradition includes attending the university’s Christmas Festival, held each year in Mees Hall.
The Christmas Festival is a creative feat of masterful planning, with hours of “poetry, prose, and scripture, interspersed with choral music,” according to the 2022 program description. All five choirs and additional instrumentalists come together to form a non-stop expression of passion and music.
The event ties back to the founding of the Chapel Choir itself in 1928. Dr. Lynda Hasseler, director of Choral Activities, is overseeing her 33rd Christmas Festival at the university.
The goal of the immersive experience for attendees of the Christmas Festival is to “close the gap between the stage and the audience,” said Hasseler.
“When you walk into Mees Hall, every detail is planned,” said Kacey Burt, member of the Choral Union, Choral Assistant and Stage Manager of the Christmas Festival.
Burt is participating in her 25th Christmas Festival and her third as Stage Manager, having graduated from the Conservatory of Music in 2001. While she is an elementary music teacher with a family, Burt still finds time to attend rehearsals and prioritizes music within every part of her life.
“We kind of have a theme that we kind of encompass in our lives and who we are, this year being ‘I Will Make,’ so it’s thinking of all of the different opportunities out there to make: ‘I will make music,’ ‘I will make joy,’” said Burt.
This year’s theme is an actionable call for which Hasseler gathered inspiration from her own personal life. She strives to develop a theme reflective of the feeling that the Chapel Choir found on their trip to South Africa, where singing is a significant and meaningful part of the culture.
Looking back on their tour performances, she said that the energy was palpable; when audiences sang along, she said that “they [weren’t] just feeling joy, they [were] doing joy! Joy [was] a verb there. And that crystallized for me that everything was going to be an action theme, something to live.”
Themes from the past few years have included “Full of Wonder,” “Break Forth Into” and “Together We.”
One of Burt’s favorite themes was “With All Your Heart,” a year in which the campus community came together to follow their passions by saying, “With all my heart, I will…”
Cora Ams, junior music major and member of the Chapel Choir, said this year’s theme is bold.
“It’s about recognizing the power you have in your life to do what you want… and what you’re capable of as a person,” said Ams.
Choir rehearsals begin right after Homecoming as all five of the university’s choirs are involved in this performance. The instrumental rehearsals gear up after BandFest and pieces of the concert come together in the week leading up to the performances.
Ams described the process of getting ready for Christmas Festival as “a marathon at a sprint pace,” with expectations of high quality work and preparedness for each rehearsal.
The preparation is rigorous, but the payoff is priceless. Students, faculty and alumni work tirelessly to execute each piece of music flawlessly. For Hasseler, all of the effort is rewarding in a number of ways.
As an artist, she has the “privilege of making music with such a willing, talented, beautiful group of people.”
As a producer, Hasseler loves “creating something that is meaningful to people that brings them joy.”
As a teacher, watching her students from their first year to their last taking “pride in taking on the leadership mentor role and how wide eyed the young ones are” is a wonderful experience.
Hasseler’s favorite pieces are the opening montage and the finale written by Andrew Lloyd Webber, but as far as the whole experience goes, there will be many surprises for the audience.
In the spirit of creativity, the choirs have been making friendship bracelets to trade at each performance, embodying the theme to its fullest. Audience members are encouraged to make friendship bracelets to trade amongst each other.
Tickets are on sale now for $35 for adults, $20 for seniors and free for university students. Profits made from ticket sales go back into the choral program to support the Conservatory of Music. Performances are held on Thursday, Nov. 30, Friday, Dec. 1 and Saturday, Dec. 2 at 7:30 p.m. and on Sunday, Dec. 3 at 3:30 p.m.