Now that we are well into the program year, my guess is that many of you might be thinking ahead to events in December. Before the pandemic, many of us may have hosted a concert or special worship service celebrating the Advent and Christmas seasons where we crammed singers into the Chancel or onto a stage and had concert halls or Sanctuaries full of congregants or audience members.
I’ve planned many of these types of events in the past. They’ve been a great way of ministering to community members through themes of the Advent and Christmas seasons. Before the pandemic, I often used an annual Lessons and Carols service or concert as a way of giving people an opportunity to sing who could not on a regular basis. As a result of the Delta variant, cramming singers into a tight space could be a health risk. In addition, might even having a live audience be too much of a risk?
Perhaps such an event is a beloved tradition in your community. I totally get it. On the other hand, this might be the year to really dig into what made that event so special and present something memorable for this time and season. Or perhaps create a different type of event. In the book The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker, I find a quote on page 3 rather helpful.
“When we don’t examine the deeper assumptions behind why we gather, we end up skipping too quickly to replicating old, staid formats of gathering. And we forgo the possibility of creating something memorable, even transformative.”
I would guess that many of you have successfully and safely adapted events over the course of the past 18 months. While I will focus on the Advent/Christmas season today, I will use a similar process of reflection for other events.
At my church, I would typically present two Advent/Christmas concerts with anthems, readings, and hymns the audience would sing on. This year, I wanted to have a concert but knew I would need options for optimum flexibility. I knew that I wanted to provide the community a memorable experience through Advent and Christmas themes, specifically surrounding the themes of darkness and light. Collective ways of processing emotions have been limited in the past 18 months and I wanted to provide a venue for that. In addition, creativity can be very healing and a good way of processing grief and other emotions.
With having such a program, so many questions came to mind. Should I have a live audience or just live-stream the concert? What kind of audience participation do I include? I was talking with a good friend Dr. Shannon Gravelle, who suggested that if I plan for the safest possible scenario now, it’s a win-win situation. With that thought in mind, I plowed ahead. First, I decided to have only one concert. Second, I have been up front with the ensembles we may not have a live-audience and that it may need to be live-streamed.
Beyond some of those COVID-related questions, I’m asking myself typical questions about programming with regards to repertoire, voicing, where to place each particular piece, flow of the concert, etc.
On the other hand, some of those artistic factors will be impacted by a desire to be as safe as possible. As a result, any singing will appear towards the second half of the program. The first half will consist of orchestral or handbell music, readings, and spoken reflections. It will also consist of creative ways for the audience to actively reflect or participate. Some rough ideas are giving them opportunities to write during a musical selection. Or perhaps creating a word cloud in real time that would appear on a screen in the Sanctuary. The theme will be centered around concepts of light and darkness, so I could also see being creative with lighting to help create a transformative experience.
Needless to say, I still have a lot of questions, planning to do, and finalizing repertoire. For the choral pieces, I’m contemplating pieces that are easier to learn in order to focus on teaching concepts, fine tuning, and safety in case some choir members would need to quarantine. I thought I would share two of the pieces I’ve decided to program. One is Walk in the Light arr. Andre Thomas. It is available in SATB (CGA 1063) and Unison/2-part (CGA 1062) voicings. The other is a piece for handbell choir, The King Shall Come arr. Cathy Moklebust. It’s a Level 2 piece for 3 – 6 octaves (CGB 691) or 2 – 3 octaves (CGB 690). Both pieces are published through Choristers Guild.
Walk in the Light
The King Shall Come (starts at 1:42).
When I have determined the repertoire, I will post the program so you can see what the final product is. Happy planning all of your special musical events and concerts!