The Department of Music plans to present its 8th annual holiday tradition Christmas Vespers, during which 150 students will perform at First Baptist Church at 7:30 p.m. Friday.
The Acappella Chorus, University Chorale, Orchestra and more will present “Gloria” as a public worship service to the Abilene Community with time set aside for prayer, liturgy and poetry throughout the music.
Jeffery Goolsby, director of choral activities, and Dr. Steven Ward, director of bands and orchestra, have coordinated to bring the service to Abilene.
“It’s sort of a concert, worship service that is very liturgically-based,” Ward said. “There are three hymns this year that the audience sings with everyone. It’s a worship service built around music. It’s such a beautiful evening of celebration, meditation, worship, scripture and prayer.”
There will be various pieces in the show in conjunction with both the Orchestra and the A Capella Chorus, like Daniel Pinkham’s Christmas Cantata and Vivaldi’s Gloria. The choir will be singing pieces by themselves as will the orchestra in their performance of Noel by Chadwick and Polonaise from Christmas Eve by Rimsky-Korsakov.
“This will be my fifth Vespers service, and every time it succeeds,” Gordon said. “I hope that we once again present an environment where we can all come together in a spirit of worship and unity to reflect the true meaning of the season. First Baptist is such a beautiful church ordinarily, but when it is decorated for Christmas and the pipe organ starts playing Christmas hymns, it becomes so much more.”
The A Capella Chorus has had just three weeks to work on the pieces and only began working with the Orchestra the week of the performance.
“The Vivaldi has its own style,” said Goolsby. “Learning the style and intricacies of that kind of music is a separate problem from the challenging rhythm and harmonies of the contemporary piece.”
Student conductor, Phillip Jackson, a senior music education major from League City, is excited for the chance to work outside his conducting class with a full ensemble.
“I’m actually in the rehearsal with Mr. Goolsby and getting hands on experience with an actual ensemble that isn’t just my classmates and friends I hang out with,” Jackson said. “It’s great starting a piece from scratch through the whole rehearsal process and then to the final performance.”
Parker Gordon, graduate English student from Weatherford, plays the oboe and English horn for the Orchestra.
“I view the Vespers service as something where I can bless others with my gifts as a musician, but also take time to revel in the beauty that accompanies such a powerful service and the anticipation of celebrating the meaning of Christmas – Christ’s birth and God’s redemption for humanity,” he said.
Gordon will have an English horn solo in one of the pieces during Christmas Vespers.
Rehearsal was not without its’ own obstacles, though.
“There was a moment in a rehearsal where we were all struggling to ‘get in the groove’ and really move as a group,” Gordon said. “Dr. Ward took a moment in rehearsal away from the piece and had us play a scale. Just a scale. We worked on that scale for probably 10 minutes or so playing it in a variety of ways and then we came back to the music and it just felt right. That was the turning point for that piece and is a great example of the musicality that has to go into making a piece work so that it truly speaks to an audience.”
Austin Lemmons, senior music education major from Abilene, plays bass drum and cymbals in a piece by Rimsky-Korsakov during the show, but it most looking forward to hearing the Vivaldi Gloria performed by the choir and orchestra.
“The highlight for me has been being part of such a quality ensemble of musicians,” Lemmons said. “Even though I’m only playing in one piece, I always enjoy contributing to this ensemble however I can.”
The directors of the show echo the excitement for the show and the students involved in each piece. Gloria will provide a new sense of connection and worship with Christmas music throughout the night.
“I hope we have a full house,” Goolsby said. “I hope that students who come really appreciate the beauty and the intense sacred nature of the program. Everything about it is a really beautiful celebration of Christmas. It may be something they’re not used to; I hope they really get something meaningful out of it.