Church Christmas music: Rehearsals start early for Advent events

Dec. 04, 2013 @ 10:36 AM

Before the leaves change color and even before hints of red and green are in stores, someone is thinking about Advent. Music ministers plan Christmas cantatas and concerts months before churchgoers add them to their calendars.
At Hope Valley Baptist Church in Durham, the choir received the music in August for this year’s Christmas cantata, “Appalachian Winter” by North Carolina-raised composer Joseph M. Martin.
At Grace Baptist Church in Durham, its choir and another church choir, Faith Baptist in Youngsville, started rehearsals in September for their first joint choral concert, “You Are Loved.” Music minister and worship leader Emily Rudolph said Faith Baptist is where she works and Grace Baptist is where she serves, as several congregants from Faith have been coming to Grace since September to help its revitalization. The joint choir will feature 60 to 70 singers. The joint children’s choir and a small choir of middle school students will also sing. There will be eight songs as well as dramatic scenes during the 90-minute program.
“It’s sharing the gospel message of Christmas, the birth of Jesus,” Rudolph said. The concert at Grace Baptist, the 106-year-old church at 1004 N. Mangum St., will be presented at 6:30 p.m. Sunday, and again on Dec. 15 at Faith Baptist in Youngsville.
Rudolph has directed the Faith choir for seven years. She said she has loved working with both churches’ choirs this fall.
“I’ve enjoyed getting to know new folks and see two bodies of believers come together toward one goal – presenting the message of Christmas,” Rudolph said.
The churches, which are 45 minutes apart, rotated choir rehearsals on Wednesdays. They’ve bonded together as a choir, she said.
“It hasn’t been wearying. It’s been a blessing, for sure,” Rudolph said.
For Hope Valley Baptist Church Music Director Ken Smith, the idea for “Appalachian Winter” came during the summer, when he was at a seminar with its composer. Smith said he is a big fan of Martin, whom he called one of the foremost composers of church music, and has done a number of Martin’s works before.
“Appalachian Winter” is a beautiful score, Smith said, with old-time folk tunes and hymns including “Away in a Manger,” “O Little Town of Bethlehem,” “Children, Go Where I Send Thee” and “Go Tell It on the Mountain.” There’s a new version of the Shaker hymn “Simple Gifts” and a touch of Native American harmony in the music, too, Smith said.
Last year, Hope Valley Baptist presented another Martin cantata, “Celtic Christmas.” “Appalachian Winter” is a tribute to Celtic music, which influenced Appalachian music, he said. The 30-voice choir will be accompanied by a 30-piece orchestra funded by an anonymous donor. Hope Valley’s new senior pastor, the Rev. Bill Bigger, will narrate. Vocal soloists are Triangle Opera Studio members Faith Houck, Stephanie Thurm and Helen Wong.
There will not be an offering during “Appalachian Winter,” which lasts about an hour.
“This is a gift to the community,” Smith said. “The only thing we want is a full sanctuary.” It seats about 400 people, and Smith suggested coming early. “Appalachian Winter” will be performed at 7 p.m. Dec. 15 at Hope Valley Baptist, 6900 Garrett Road.
The Hope Valley Baptist choir has devoted half of its Wednesday rehearsals to the cantata this fall, plus special rehearsal time. Smith, who studied, was a singer and voice instructor in Europe, said he was very pleased with the choir.
“They sing with conviction and go the extra mile for me and the church,” Smith said. There is never anything as rewarding as lowering his baton, he said. “It’s like flying.”
More special Christmas music is planned at churches this month:
-- The Senior Choir of St. Paul AME Church will present its 37th Annual Christmas Cantata at 4 p.m. Sunday at the church, 101 N. Merritt Mill Road in Chapel Hill. A holiday reception will follow the cantata presentation. Debra Woodard is the choir director. Refreshments after the service. For information, call the church office at 919-967-3961.
-- University United Methodist Church will host a Carolina Lessons and Carols Service at 7 p.m. on Sunday with UNC student musicians and singers at the church at150 E. Franklin St. in Chapel Hill. Students will read from the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols held at King’s College in Cambridge on Christmas Eve in 1918. Musical participants include those from UNC’s Wesley Campus Ministry, Presbyterian Campus Ministry, Newman Center, Fellowship of Baptist Campus Ministries, UNC Women’s Glee Club, the Tarpeggios, Vision and music students. The service will end with “Silent Night.” by candlelight. A free will offering will be collected for missions. Hot chocolate will be served after the service. For information, visit