Tuesday 30 December 2008
Many of my friends have asked about the Christmas program in my ward. I loved every minute of the rehearsals and other preparations. We had a two hour dress rehearsal on Saturday morning the 20th to put all of the elements together. I tried to involve old and new, lighter and heavier, old and young.
The service began with a violin solo; Rachel Goates’ Silent Night with piano accompaniment. After the first verse, a narrator, a mature gentleman with a deep voice reads from the second chapter of Luke over the music. He ends four bars before the end of the music. He waits for silence. With no music, he transitions into the scene on the western continent reading from 3rd Nephi. At “…and on the morrow shall the sign be given”, the pianist begins the introduction for I Come unto My Own by K. Newell Dayley. This is a long piece at over seven minutes, but the melodies are heart-wrenching. It calls for piano AND organ. I orchestrated the organ portion of this work. We had flute, oboe, bassoon, horn, three violins, viola, cello, doublebass; all from the ward. Many of the players were high schoolers. All of the string players were adults. (The bassoonist is in the 7th grade, but he was wonderful.)
Next, a mezzo soprano from the ward sang the two recitatives (numbers 14 & 15?) from Handel’s Messiah preceeding the chorus, Glory to God. “…and suddenly, there were with the angels a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying…” The choir sang the Glory to God chorus. This piece probably took the longest to prepare, but I felt it was worth it. I invited Patty Adams from my ward to rehearse and conduct this number. Her experience gave the performance an added dimension. Our little orchestra, already in place, was the perfect combination for the Handel score.
Next, a sister from the ward gave a heart-felt five minute Christmas talk.
The choir sang One Small Babe from Shawn M. Stringham and Lynn S. Lund. I had orchestrated this little nativity when I was serving in a BYU stake. It is probably my favorite modern Christmas carol for ward choir. All I had to do was adapt the score a little for our present instrumental combination.
Next came What I Have, I Offer by Kay Hicks Ward. This is a choral piece which includes a violin obbligatto part. It is the slowest and the most meditative piece in the program. It’s quiet sobriety lent balance.
Two young women played the International Christmas Festival for piano, four-hands (arranged by Carolyn Stevens) while a children’s chorus assembled on the stand. Our mezzo soprano, Jennifer Gale then presented the traditional Gesu Bambino with the children singing the two Oh, Come Let Us Adore Him portions. This, I think, was very effective. Of course, the children’s voices immediately engaged the congregation.
A brother from the ward gave a five minute talk at this point.
The choir then presented Ever Holy by Lissandra Brothers and Christine H. Davis. This piece uses piano accompaniment alone, but we brought in the flute to reinforce some of the soprano lines. This piece focuses on the Savior’s great atoning mission, and is, essentially, the end of he program.
For a bit of a bang I added a final closer, Christmas Is a Time of Joy arranged by A. Laurence Lyon. It is a six minute carol medley which involves the congregation at the end with Oh Come, All Ye Faithful. We used the full orchestra with piano. The conductor turns in the final chorus and brings in the congregation. There is a four-bar “…Christ the Lord” Coda for the choir at the end. The effect is stunning.
A member of the stake presidency was seated on the stand. He isn’t a musician. The experience for him of sitting essentially in the woodwind section of the orchestra during the entire performance was quite dramatic. He said afterwards, “Brother Jackman, the Lord approved!”
Special consideration had to be given to logistics. Reverently managing over sixty people with music stands and microphones took some planning.
We have three horn players in the ward, so I orchestrated everything using all of them. After the first orchestra rehearsal, it was obvious that this was at least two horns too many. I cut it back to one (very soft, low range) horn to mix into the woodwinds. This was effective.
With warning, a third mature violinist appeared at the dress rehearsal. Rather than have her play the second part with the other violinist, I wrote her a “Violin III” part which thickened the strings with some color. That worked out very nicely.
This was my last service as ward choir director. The first part of November I had been called to serve as Ward Clerk in our stake single adult ward with the provision that I do both callings until after the Christmas service.