Guilford College Methodist’s cantata a seasonal tradition

by Lee Adams

It’s Wednesday night and the Guilford College United Methodist Church choir is preparing for their second annual Christmas cantata. Members of the Greensboro Symphony will be joining the choir on Dec. 18 for the presentation, but tonight director Joyce Thee works to prepare the voices to carry amongst the instrumentation. If they don’t project, Thee tells them, they’ll be covered up by the orchestra, and they need to stay on beat with the piano because the musicians won’t slow the music down to keep them on track.

Last year most of the choir members sang with the orchestra, so they know what to expect. Some take the rehearsal more seriously while others make lighthearted jokes, but Thee keeps a tight rein on all of them tonight since there’s only two more rehearsals until they practice with the orchestra on the 17th.

‘“Cel-lay-bra-tion,’” Thee tells them stressing the lay.

‘“We as American’s tend to say ‘cel-luh-bra-tion,’” choir member Rebecca Perkinson chimes in. The way Thee tells them to pronounce the word is actually the proper way.

This year’s cantata, entitled The Christmas Light, is an arrangement by Patrick M. Liebergen of music taken from major choral works that celebrates the season of Advent. Advent is the coming, or arrival, of the Christ child and anticipates the second coming of Christ as King. The musical covers the four weeks leading up to Advent beginning with hope and moving on through peace, joy and love.

Advent is a time of anticipation and longing for God’s deliverance from the evils of the world through a savior, much the same as the Israelites sought deliverance from Egyptian slavery. In today’s church Advent is often expressed with a wreath of four outer candles and one inner candle. The circular wreath itself is a reminder of God’s never ending love and mercy and expresses the hope for renewal, forgiveness and eternal life.

The four outer candles, lit during the four Sundays of Advent before Christmas, symbolize four centuries of waiting between the time of the prophet Malachi and the birth of Christ. As each candle is lit a story of the coming of Christ is told. The light of the candles is a reminder of Jesus as the light of this world. Three of the outer candles are traditionally purple or blue to signify royalty, while the fourth is rose-colored to signify joy. The fifth candle in the center of the wreath is white and symbolizes Christ. It is the last candle to be lit, on Christmas day.

Thee likes to offer the congregation opportunities to hear something special at different times of the year, and likes to give the choir the chance to sing with strings. ‘“It gives life to their music,’” she says.

Above all, Thee stresses to the choir that singing is a gift to God and a way that members can be of benefit to the worship setting. She reminds them they are there to help others realize the importance of Advent and the true meaning of Christmas.

The parts have been slowly coming together and by the time the choir reaches their third song for rehearsal a magical blend begins to take place.

‘“Oh come, oh come Em-ma-a-a-nu-el,’” they sing to a beautiful piano accompaniment. The sound resonates through the chapel filling it with warmth. It’s an Advent song in every sense and one that will sound extraordinary when the soft strings of the orchestra are added.

Thee conducts the group from halfway back an aisle ‘— about how far she’ll be after the instruments take up the rest of the floor near the front.

The choir rehearses one last song, a Mozart piece entitled ‘“We’re Told by Prophets.’”

‘“Good job, good job. Good rehearsal,’” Thee tells the group. They’ve done a good job of tackling some difficult parts, she tells them. Next Wednesday they’ll refine their parts in preparation for the big rehearsal.

Thee leads them in a prayer.

‘“Help people remember it’s not about material things at all, but about our savior,’” she prays.

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