Candlelight unites school to celebrate the holidays

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Dan Poag

Orchestra accompanies Boy Choir’s performance of “Carol of the Star.”

Abigail Poag and Laney Chang

Their faces lit by flickering candles, hundreds of people grew silent as the first strains of organ music sounded across the church. 

On the evening of Dec. 10, family, faculty and friends packed into St. John the Divine Church for Candlelight, an annual holiday service comprised of choral and orchestral performances as well as readings and speeches. Although Candlelight is traditionally held on a Thursday, administration moved this year’s service to a Sunday to accommodate the scheduling problems created by Hurricane Harvey. This schedule shift came with other changes to the school calendar, including the cancellation of midterms. 

“This year, I wasn’t focused on midterms, so it was better for me because I could actually enjoy Candlelight,” sophomore violist and Les Chanteuse member Claire Huff said. “With everything that’s happened this year, it worked out really well.”

Biology teacher Douglas Elliott, whose sons (‘08 and ‘11) participated in both Boy Choir and Chorale, attended Candlelight to watch his students perform.

“I always make a point to go see some Athletics and Fine Arts events because I don’t want to forget about important things in [a student’s] world,” Elliott said.

Choirs from all three divisions performed time-honored classics like “Wonderful Peace,” “Wexford Carol” and “Do You Hear What I Hear?”

“There’s a lot of beautiful Christmas music out there,” choral director Scott Bonasso said. “The directors all take great care for their programming for this concert, and their ensembles always put their best foot forward.”

In addition to performing two solo pieces, the Upper School orchestras accompanied Boy Choir in “Carol of the Star,” Chorale in “Christmas Day” and the Upper School choirs and faculty in “Night of Silence.”

“Mr. Bonasso does a good job of picking pieces that [the orchestras and choirs] work together well in,” Cantatores and Les Chantueses director Brendan Emig said. 

Between each ensemble piece, the congregation sang hymns like “O Come, All Ye Faithful” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing.” Although these breaks allowed the performers a chance to transition, the orchestra members were forced to sight-read the hymns.

“Last year, I thought it would be hard to sight-read [the hymns], but this year, I was less alarmed about it,” sophomore bassist Aidan Aguilar said.

For students who participate in both orchestra and choir, the service was packed with transitions between the ensembles. Some of the students performing double-duty enjoyed this added dimension to Candlelight.

“It’s fun to know that I’m a big part of Candlelight; being in both orchestra and choir puts me in a lot of songs,” Huff said. “I felt really accomplished afterwards because we’ve been practicing for a long time, so I liked how much I got to participate.”

Bonasso appreciates Candlelight’s ability to unite performers and audience alike.

“[Candlelight] is one of the few times that the entire school community gets together to celebrate as a family,” Bonasso said. “In a way, this is the St. John’s family celebrating the holidays together.”