Upon first arriving at the St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, people packed in with ten or twelve bodies per pew, leaving latecomers with standing room only for the 3 o’clock show.Â So they stood, lining the walls halfway toward the pulpit itself. The high ceilings, brilliant stain glass windows, and colorful archways provided the ideal setting as all eyes, both painted portraits and living audience members alike, anticipated the procession of tails and velvet gowns. Then, by the cue of a tall, beguiled director to his pianist, Lessons and Carols began, exactly one month before Christmas Day.
For the twenty-eighth year, Dr. Jeffrey Sandborg directed a breathtaking performance. Accompanied by Cara Hubbard and Kelly Wheelbarger at the organ, the Roanoke College Choir and Oriana Singers proudly presented over an hour of harmonious carols in the St. Andrew’s Catholic Church complete with ten thought-provoking lessons. While most of the hymns sung by the two groups were unfamiliar, the congregation was invited to follow along during the popular few such as “O Come, All Ye Faithful”, “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing”, and “Joy to the World” to which Rev. Paul Henrickson said, “Nothing gets better than when you have acoustics like this and a back-up choir.”
Starting with Creation, the lessons, acting as transitional periods between the choral pieces, included every introductory, biblical story leading up to the nativityâ€”the birth of Jesus Christ. Some of the lessons involved the Virgin Mary’s discovery that she would give birth to the Son of God as well as the story of the shepherds following the star of Bethlehem, and the three wise men bringing frankincense and myrrh, etc. Each lesson was given either by Rev. Paul Henrickson or President Maxey.
For some of the singers, Lessons and Carols is much more than a moment when they’re onstage together. For Liesl Stach, a Junior soprano in the Roanoke College Choir, Lessons and Carols is one of her favorite concerts. “I always feel like it’s such a great way to begin the Christmas season!” Some even had favorite parts to sing in a particular carol. Zach Mullenax, a tenor in the Roanoke College Choir, Literary Studies major, Sophomore, and member of Mu Beta Psi, favored the physical experience in saying, “My favorite carol is Tyrley Tyrlow, from the composition Three Carols. It’s a very fun song, and I love being able to belt that high A when the times comes.” Finally, Bailey Howard, a member of the class of 2015 and an alto in the Roanoke College Choir, preferred the unique chance she had to work with her peers: “I really enjoyed the student directed songs. They were different from most of the others, [and] it provided a nice contrast.”
Two young ladies, Jennie Blaney and Emily Leimbach, took on the director’s position momentarily to conduct their own pieces during Lessons and Carols, using the chance to improve their musical skills.
“It is really scary to get up in front of so many people and be responsible for leading the ensemble; there was definitely a lot of pressure, because I knew that the choir was depending on me,” said Jennie.
The experience granted her a unique opportunity to challenge herself for the sake of preparing herself in the pursuit for a music education licensure, which will require more conducting in the future. Of course, the countless hours of practice outside of class and choir paid off, and both she and Emily took the baton by storm. “It was definitely worth the extra work and it meant a lot to me to be able to conduct my peers at such an important concert.”
Even with such irrefutably promising talent, student performers from every department at Roanoke College, Lessons and Carols was an event completely free to the public. Nevertheless, an offering was passed halfway through the performance for Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. After all, Christmas is a time of giving.
Lessons and Carols was a complete success, professed by both the campus community and the city of Roanoke. The work of Dr. Jeffrey Sandborg, the Roanoke College Choir, and the Oriana Singers has yet again proven itself to be deserving of infinite praise.
Their next event will be George Frideric Handel’s Messiah, led by guest conductor Steven White of the Metropolitan Opera, on December 16th at the Jefferson Center. Tickets can be purchased online at www.jeffcenter.org/tickets, at Jefferson Center’s Box Office at 541 Luck Avenue, between the hours of 8:30 AM and 2:30 PM, or by phone at 540-345-2550, X1; prices start at $12 for students and increase depending on seat preference, with a 15% discount for groups of 10 or more. Don’t miss the last performance of the academic semester!