Marquette Wire

Lessons and Carols returns after two year break

MU Chorus and the Liturgical Choir to perform holiday songs

Photo by Photo via Facebook

Photo by Photo via Facebook

Lily Stanicek

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For the first time in two years, Marquette’s Lessons and Carols choral concert is being held at the Church of the Gesu to celebrate the upcoming Christmas season. The event signals a merging of Marquette’s choral groups, the MU Chorus and the Liturgical Choir, who will perform the congregational singing and choir music which is interspersed within the traditional selection of nine readings that tell the fall of humanity and the birth of Christ. The performance is Friday, Dec. 4 at 7:30 p.m.

This winter Lessons and Carols will be in its 13th year at Marquette, although it has not always been held every single year. Mark Konewko, director of MU Chorus, has said that the gap over the last two years when the event was not performed was simply because of the way the academic calendar fell. For the same reason, the performance, traditionally held on Christmas Eve, is held during Advent Week at Marquette so students can attend before they leave for winter break.

Two years off means that most of the students performing Lessons and Carols this year have never performed it before, something that the students and directors both see as a challenge as well as a gift.

“While it is challenging in that I do not know exactly how it will turn out,” said Brynn Lee, junior in the College of Communication and president of MU Chorus,“that is part of the benefit. We are going into this performance blind, and we will be just as pleased with our performance as our audience members.”

An additional challenge is the minuscule amount of rehearsal time the MU Chorus and the Liturgical Choir have as a full group. Students do individual work and each group meets every week, but it is only the day before the performance that the groups rehearse together.

​In the meantime, Konewko and Tom Koester, director of the Liturgical Choir, have to coordinate their direction.

“As directors, Mark and I try to make sure that we are on the same page as far as technical direction and musical interpretation,” Koester said. “It would be great to have more time together, but our classes meet on different days, and students here are very busy.”

Koester mentioned the extensive amount of work the students do outside of rehearsal to prepare for the performance. Student performers do everything from listening to D2L recordings, preparing for performance exams, to contributing work on poster design and publicity across the city to sending out invitations to clergy, administration and faculty as readers or leaders of prayer.

Both the students and directors have to hope that all the work and preparation as separate groups will ultimately come together to create a cohesive performance.

“In the end, it comes down to having two talented directors and two talented choirs, with the help of fantastic accompanists, to build one cohesive performance,” said Joey Herriges, first-year law student and vice president of the Liturgical Choir. “It boils down to a lot of hard work by both groups.”

This year the performance will include a selection called The Christmas Cantata written by Daniel Pinkham. It will be the first time many student performers will be confronted with tackling a choral piece this large and expansive, a piece Koester called “harmonically challenging, but very accessible.”

“While we have many students that have sung in their high school and church choirs, we also find that we often have interest from students with little or no experience in singing in a choir,” Koester said. “That is both a wonderful opportunity for us and them and a challenge to bring everyone up to the level of performing a major musical work.”

As a performer, Lee is looking forward to what this piece will bring to the overall presentation.

“The Pinkham piece adds both a gentleness and a sense of grandiosity to the performance,” Lee said. “The message of the piece is really a beautiful retelling of the infancy narrative, while the music of the piece is larger than life.”

As it has in many places since its inception in 1878, Lessons and Carols has become a staple in the Marquette community’s celebration of the spiritual foundation of the holiday season.

“By carrying on this tradition, Mark and I are caretakers of a beloved tradition and of an opportunity for ecumenical prayer that brings together many faith traditions within the university community and members of the wider Milwaukee community as well,” Koester said.

From a performer’s perspective, Lee said that Lessons and Carols moves beyond simply performing for the love of singing.

“Lessons and Carols is more about sharing in the joy of the holiday season with the entire community,” Lee said. “Instead of performing introspectively, we will be performing for the sake of the community and the season.”

 

 

 

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