Candlelight service unites choir, orchestra for holiday celebration


David Elder

Chamber Strings accompanied Chorale for “In Terra Pax.”

Hamzah Mir and Russell Li

Although students worked hard to finish final projects and study for midterm exams just around the corner, students, faculty, friends and families still found the time to attend a musical holiday service together.

On Sunday, Dec. 9, hundreds of members of the St. John’s community streamed into St. John the Divine Church in order to enjoy Candlelight, an annual service marking the beginning of the holiday season.

Choirs from all three divisions of the School performed in Candlelight; the performance unified many students.

“The community really comes together to celebrate the advent of the holiday season,” senior Chorale and Kantorei member Raunak Kundagrami said. “Although it’s a busy time for everyone, we always take time out of our lives to enjoy Candlelight.”

For many students, Candlelight serves as a break from the academics of St. John’s and allows for students to focus on the more fine arts-related side of their lives.

“Candlelight is the official kickoff to the holidays,” choral director Scott Bonasso said. “It puts the brakes on a rigorous fall semester.”

Candlelight began with speeches by Director of Spiritual Life Ned Mulligan and Head Prefect Juliette Draper about the value of Christmas, Candlelight and the holiday season. The seven ensembles presented the work produced, rehearsed over dozens of hours.

One of the highlights of Candlelight was “In Terra Pax” by Gerald Finzi. Chorale and Chamber Strings performed the 13-minute piece, which included a solo by Cantatores and Les Chanteuses director Brendan Emig.

“It’s both a really wonderful and nerve-racking feeling to sing in front of your family and friends,” Emig said. “I’m honored to be singing the baritone solo. It’s a really beautiful piece, as the choir and orchestra mix to create a very warm sound.”

In previous years, Chorale has saved the most challenging pieces for later concerts in the spring, but “In Terra Pax” was an early addition to Chorale’s difficult repertoire.

According to freshman Anshul Nayak, many freshmen in Chorale and Les Chanteuses were awed by the SJS choir program, and Candlelight allowed them to bond with fellow students from all grades.

“At my old school, I was not able to bond well with my classmates in choir,” freshman Anshul Nayak said. “In Chorale, I feel a much larger sense of community, and participating in Candlelight allowed me to bond even more with my fellow classmates.”

For students performing in both orchestra and choir, “In Terra Pax” offered an opportunity to hear the music they had rehearsed from both parts. Although the ensembles rehearsed the piece independently for weeks, ensemble members were pleasantly surprised to hear the fruits of their combined labor.

“I sometimes wonder if doing both Chorale and Orchestra is worth the hassle,” sophomore Casey Propst said, “but when I heard the orchestra and choir parts simultaneously during ‘In Terra Pax,’ I felt like they really matched. I knew exactly how both parts came together.”

The Candlelight service is capped by “Wonderful Peace”—an a-capella classic performed by Chorale and Les Chanteuses. During “Wonderful Peace,” the choirs disperse among the crowd, so audience members find themselves enveloped by the choir members.

“The lights in the church are dimmed, and the choirs’ voices create a magical sound,” Draper said. “From the first time I heard this piece in sixth grade, I always looked forwards to singing it. It’s a great piece to usher in the holidays.”

“Through Candlelight,” Bonasso said, “We pause, reflect, and come together as a community to appreciate the beauty of the winter season.”