Music Department Ramps Up For Another Huge Concert
Reported by Joshua Alexander Bell
As the Christmas season approaches, the Ross building begins to transform. Home of the George Fox University (GFU) Music and Art departments, Ross is a hub for many of the school’s artistically-minded students. And so, as December rolls around, dozens of students in the Music department cover Ross and the adjoining Bauman Auditorium with Christmas décor.
Every year at GFU, a mammoth Christmas concert takes place over the course of three days. With the audience often filling Bauman Auditorium to its 1,150 person capacity, students from just about every musical ensemble on campus perform the music of the season.
This involves months of preparation and thousands of man-hours of work from faculty and students. Virtually every student involved in an ensemble will perform.
The driving force behind this behemoth event is GFU’s Assistant Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities Danielle Warner. Ever since she was hired by the university in 2015, Warner has put in hundreds of hours working behind the scenes to make the event come together every year.
When asked about what her responsibilities entailed, she responded, “Everything, but with large support. I oversee all of it, but I work with amazing professionals.” She says that nearly 200 people are involved in the production in some way, including ensemble members.
This year, all of this will add up to a concert focusing on three themes. Warner describes this year’s repertoire as “songs that provide hope, provide comfort, and are truly joyful.”
The aforementioned ensembles include the 60-some member strong Concert Choir, the Christmas Festival Orchestra, the Women’s Chorale, and the Keyboard Ensemble. Dwayne Corbin, the newest hire by the Department of Music, will conduct around half of the pieces performed by the orchestra. He is extremely excited to conduct the orchestra for the first time in the Christmas Concert, saying, “[I] expect that to be awesome. We have some great music, it’s going to be a lot of fun.”.
Brent Weaver, the Music Department chair, looks forward to the concert every year. He describes his concert duties with a chuckle; he says his job is “essentially to watch everyone else and admire the work they do.”
Self-deprecation aside, he does have important responsibilities; he provides leadership, direction, and support for all of those involved, and delivers the concert narration. The Christmas Concert always has an impact on him, and he loves the impact it has on the wider community.
“The neatest thing about the Christmas Concert,” he said, “is that it is a way that we can honor God, celebrate the season, and share with the community.”
According to Weaver, it is a family tradition for many people to attend. “We keep hearing from folks that they are blessed by it, and that is encouraging.”
This year, the Christmas Concert will take place Dec. 7-9, with the Friday and Saturday evening performances beginning at 7:30 p.m. and the Sunday matinee occurring at 2:30 p.m.
Every year, the concert is given a new name. Last year it was “Glory to God in the Highest,” and this year’s title is “Peace on Earth.”
Music Department Administrative Assistant Debbie Hawblitzel, an integral part of planning the event every year, says that one of the most impactful parts of the program for her is “seeing the looks on peoples’ faces and hearing their stories of how much of a difference it made in their lives to go to the Christmas Concert.”
She recounted a story from a few years ago of how the concert had brightened the life of a woman whose husband had died about a month before the performance. For Hawblitzel, stories like this have made the extensive effort more than worthwhile.
Alexa Aldridge, a senior Music Pre-Teaching major, is Warner’s director’s assistant. “I’m her brain,” she says with a laugh. Warner, standing nearby, nods her head in agreement.
Aldridge’s workload is tremendous, but she loves it. The concert and the lead-up to it has been special to her ever since she was a freshman. “Everything is decorated and beautiful,” she says, speaking of Ross. “It’s just big and festive.”
As she is a senior, this will be her last year performing in the concert as an undergraduate. “It’s very bittersweet,” she says wistfully. She looks forward to being in the audience in the coming years, or potentially singing in the community choir at GFU, Master Chorus, which often joins Concert Choir for a song or two at the performance.
Every member of Concert Choir sings the words “Silent Night” in their own unique rhythm as they go through the first rehearsal for the upcoming concert. In this special variation of “Silent Night,” the final syllables of each phrase only join in beautiful harmony after a set of intentionally chaotic sequences. Maybe, just maybe, they can bring some peace to this earth, or at least to the audience members present at this small college in Newberg.