Sewanee celebrates Lessons and Carols under new Choirmaster


Photo courtesy of University of the South Flickr

By Evans Ousley and Taylor Lanier

Staff Writers

On December 3-4, Sewanee celebrated the 57th Annual Festival of Lessons and Carols in All Saints’ Chapel. Dr. Geoffrey Ward, the new University Organist and Choirmaster, considers this year’s festival a success, calling the “beautiful worship service truly spectacular.” Ward hand-picked the carols with care from the many different pieces of repertoire to craft the service to his own vision for the classic Christmas tradition.

The Chapel was adorned with greenery, poinsettias, and hydrangeas collected and arranged with care by members of the Sewanee community, and no one could miss the Advent wreath pouring out its gorgeous foliage from above.

One piece sung by the choir this year, “There is no rose of such virtue,” was arranged specifically for Ward and the University Choir for the 2016 Festival of Lessons and Carols by a current Sewanee parent. Ward could not have been more pleased with the experience as a whole as he commented that he continues to “reflect on the whole congregation singing the hymns, with the choir leading and the brass playing along. There is so much energy and passion. It was unbelievably powerful to experience.”

He witnessed the whole Sewanee community come together to prepare for the weekend, as the Physical Plant Services team helped to redesign the chapel and many community members worked to decorate the chapel with beautiful greenery and flowers.

“There are many traditions at Sewanee, but this one is unique because every faction of the university plays a part in the continuation of Lessons and Carols. I feel special to be a part of it,” says Ward.

Soprano Madeline Naylor (C’20) said, “It’s really easy to get into the spirit for Lessons and Carols because all of the music is so spiritual and the hymns are so triumphant, which to me is what Christmas is about. Add brass and it’s nothing short of majestic.” The altos, tenors, and basses demonstrated their masterful range in Rorate. The final phrase, “Pro nobis puer natus est”, or “A child is born to us”, must still be ringing somewhere in the Chapel.

Sewanee students, parents, faculty, staff, and alumni were not the only people in attendance. Southern Living magazine sent a photographer to document the weekend for an article on southern holiday traditions they will publish in next month’s magazine. A man with a large-lensed camera captured special moments throughout the weekend, snapping the best shots of choir members singing, Sacristans lighting candles, fraternity and sorority members greening the chapel, and Proctors and Angels greeting guests as they ushered them to their seats. Each year during the week leading up to the festival, the whole community comes together to contribute to an experience full of the wonder of the Advent and Christmas season.

As one of the head acolytes, Austin Heerema (C’17) read the seventh lesson, The shepherds go to the manger, for the 5 o’clock Sunday Service. “Lessons and Carols is always an enjoyable experience, if an exhausting one,” said Heerema. As a senior, Heerema added, “It was a nostalgic experience because I’ve served at Lessons and Carols every year since coming here in 2013, and this is my last year to do it. The music and decorations were beautiful, and I hope I’ll be able to come back to Sewanee and experience the service again, if only from the congregation.”

Since Dr. Robbe Delcamp’s retirement in May after 37 years as University Organist and Choirmaster, Ward has been preparing for his first Lessons and Carols from the moment he started at Sewanee. After months of preparation and anticipation of the festival, Ward now feels an almost nostalgic feeling now that it has come and gone, though he knows he has many more years of Lessons and Carols ahead of him. He adds,“There are only 360 more days until we get to do it again!”

When the entire Congregation joined in the final hymn, O Come, all ye faithful, the spirit of the season shone through. One enthusiastic passerby exclaimed, “I cannot wait until next year!” He must have spoken for us all.