Thursday evening at Wesley United Methodist Church in Charleston, the Concert Choir and Collegium Musicum Sinfonia from the Department of Music at Eastern Illinois University presented “A Ceremony of Nine Lessons & Carols.” Conductor Richard Robert Rossi and Graduate Conductor Sehong Oh directed. Pastor Wally Carlson and Dr. Richard Hummel alternated for the readings.
We were glad we were early as the Sinfonia and Flute Ensemble were performing as guests came in and were seated. Patrick Ward played an organ solo, Vom Himmel Hoch (From Heaven High) by Johann Pachelbel (1653-1706). Candles placed down each aisle were lit by candle lighters which set the reverential mood.
The Processional Hymn “Once in Royal David’s City,” directed by Graduate Conductor Sehong Oh, was played while the singing choral group walked to their places on the Yuletide decorated stage. The audience stood and joined in singing this old favorite. This poem was written in 1848 by Cecil Frances Humphreys Alexander. She conveys the story of the birth of Jesus Christ in this picturesque piece. Henry Gauntlett composed the music.
The Bidding Prayer entered us into Lesson I: Genesis III: 8-15 with Alme Siderum as Conditor. The Plainchant, arranged by Richard Robert Rossi (b. 1962), foretold the coming of the Messiah and the mightiness of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Spirit.
Lesson II: Genesis XXII: 15-18 — where God tells Abraham that his descendants would be blessed. “Domine Deus” from the “Gloria” by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) featured soloists, Allison Wilber, soprano, and Danielle McKenzie, oboe.
Lesson III: Isaiah IX 2, 6, 7 — when the people walked from darkness into the light and God told them of the coming of the birth of Christ. “Laudamus te” from the “Gloria” featured Yung-Jung Cheng, Ashley McHugh, sopranos, and the Sinfonia EIU students.
Lesson IV: Isaiah XI: 1-3a, 4a, 6-9 — when the souls acknowledge the power of God and his promise to Abraham and his seed. “Magnificat” by Leonardo Leo (1694-17444) was sung by the Collegium Musicum Sinfonia and the Chorus & Chamber Chorus. This was so peaceful.
Lesson V: Luke II: 26, 35, 38 — when Gabriel went to Nazareth to tell Mary she would be conceiving and bringing forth the Son of God, Jesus. “Silent Night” was sung from the Hymnal by all. Jaymee Findlay was featured on clarinet. Father Joseph Mohr in 1816 wrote the words to this favorite Christmas Carol with Franz Xaver Gruber later writing the music.
Lesson VI: Luke II: 1, 3-7 — when Caesar Augustus proclaimed everyone should be taxed and Mary, heavy with child, and Joseph headed for Bethlehem to pay their taxes. “Sussex Carol,” a Traditional English/arranged by Hunter/Weale” was led by Graduate Conductor Sehong OH.
Lesson VII: Luke II: 8-16 — when the Shepherds saw the great light in the sky and an angel appeared announcing the birth of Jesus. “In the Bleak Midwinter” written by Christina Rossetti was sung by all from the Hymnal. It was published in 1904 after her death in a poetry book. It became a popular Christmas carol a few years later.
Lesson VIII: Matthew II: 1-12 — when Herod heard of the birth of a new King he asked the Magi, who had seen the star, to go to Bethlehem. They followed the star and when giving their gifts to the babe they fell down and worshiped him. “Of the Father’s Love Begotten,” a Plainchant/arr. by John Rutter (b. 1945) was performed by the Collegium Musicum Sinfonia.
Lesson IX: John 1: 1-14 — When John the Baptist came witnessing the coming of Jesus Christ the light of the world. At this time the word was to become flesh. “What Sweeter Music” by John Rutter was performed by the Collegium Musicum Sinfonia.
The “Collect for Christmas and Final Blessing” was next followed by everyone singing “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” from the Hymnal. Charles Wesley wrote this well-loved Christmas carol and one that was just perfect for ending a beautiful ceremony of celebration.
Thus, the Christmas story was brought to full circle with the Biblical account, the reverent Christmas carols celebrating the birth of the Messiah, and the warm blessing on all peoples. It was a solemn, sincere, celebration of Christmas 2012. So perfect.
Thank you Conductor Richard Robert Rossi and all who participated in this magnificent “Ceremony of Nine Lessons & Carols.”
Carolyn Stephens of Charleston is an arts enthusiast and reviewer-at-large for the JG-TC. Contact her at email@example.com.