Four-part “Christmas on the Boulevard” brings holiday spirit to Liberty
- Christmas musical events include concerts, an opera and a showcase of the diversity of the four nights of performance.
- This is the first year that Christmas on the Boulevard spans four nights, but the School of Music hopes to make it an annual tradition.
The seventh annual Christmas on the Boulevard is in full swing for its weeklong event complete with various musical performances. Liberty University’s School of Music will present Handel’s “Messiah,” “Christmas Ornaments,” “Amahl and the Night Visitors” and “The President’s Encore Performance” from Dec. 4-8.
Dr. Vernon Whaley, Dean of the School of Music, said that the decision to make Christmas on the Boulevard a week-long event stemmed from its packed performances in past years. They also wanted to highlight the diversity of the School of Music (SOM) and allow the school’s seven departments enough time to display their students’ talents.
Whaley said the name “Christmas on the Boulevard” came from the location of past performances in the School of Divinity Towns Auditorium, which was formerly on University Boulevard. He said they wanted an inclusive title so the school could grow into the name and expand with a variety of concerts underneath the title. Whaley explained exactly what is happening on each of the nights.
On Monday, Dec. 4, all of the SOM choirs—about 400 singers strong—performed the Christmas classic Handel’s “Messiah,” kicking off the week. There was a full 80-piece orchestra, and faculty sang solo parts in the production.
Tuesday night, a variety of favorite carols and two original pieces will be featured in a concert named “Christmas Ornaments.” The SOM choirs will sing five songs followed by performances by some of the 17 individual music ensembles. The concert will include the highly praised “Carol of the Bells” arrangement written by film score student and senior Brock Snow and premiere an arrangement of “Angels We Have Heard on High” written by film score student Kimberly Greene.
The third performance, “Amahl and the Night Visitors” will take place on Thursday. This “light opera” which was written for TV and aired on NBC in 1951, tells the story of a crippled boy who meets the magi, is miraculously healed and travels to see the Christ Child. The adult lead roles will all be played by faculty members and 9-year-old Carter Roe will play the crippled boy. The villagers will be played by the Liberty University Chamber Singers. Accompanying the singers will be a stage orchestra of 25-28 musicians. Music faculty member Samantha Miller is directing the opera with Scott Hayes, Dean of the Department of Visual and Performing Arts, as co-director.
Finally, “The President’s Encore Performance” will close out the week of performances Friday. It will reflect pieces from all of the previous nights and showcase the diversity of the SOM.
All the performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Tickets for the rest of the week’s performances can be purchased on the LU Portal at $1 for students, faculty, staff and youth, and $5 for the public.
Whaley recounted the inception of the President’s Encore Performance. He described how following last year’s Christmas on the Boulevard concert on a Tuesday, he had sent President Falwell a text with a picture of the event and a thank you note for the wonderful new concert hall.
The next morning, Whaley received a phone call from Falwell at 10:25 asking why he was not at the Vines Center. Whaley, who had been in a meeting with the Provost, rushed to Vines and was escorted on stage. Moments later, President Falwell stood up, bragged on the stellar performance the night before and publicly asked for an encore performance to which Whaley automatically said yes.
Whaley smiled and said after that they decided to make it an annual event.
As the announcement was made in Convocation last year, students immediately expressed their concern about the impact and stress additional rehearsals and another performance would add to their already packed week leading up to finals. Brock Snow explained in an interview that there were a lot of “bipolar emotions.” While it was an exciting opportunity, the stress level and extra time commitment was a legitimate challenge. Snow put it in perspective by noting that this provided students with a taste of how spontaneous the music industry can be and was a valuable learning experience that pushed many students beyond what they thought they could do.
Whaley said after the performance many students approached him and, having experienced the thrill of it all, told him they enjoyed it. He mentioned that he received around 100 letters thanking him for holding the event.
Both Whaley and Snow said that although this year’s performances last an entire week, knowing in advance removes a lot of the extra stress. Snow described the move to a week of performances as part of the developmental process and “a no brainer” in increasing the prestige of the school.
Dr. John Hugo, chair of the department of music, believes that with the specialization of each concert, the attendees will reflect that certain music genres appeal to different audiences.
“The most important thing for performances is number one, to glorify God and the second is to encourage people and help them get into the spirit of Christmas whatever that means to them,” Hugo said.
Although the production is quite enormous, because so much of the sourcing is in house, Whaley explained that keeps it very affordable.
According to Whaley, the biggest challenge is preparing people and advertising the four nights of performances instead of one, along with the challenges that exist with normal productions.
Elaborating on one of those challenges, Hugo described the logistics of finding places on the stage for almost 500 performers.
“To make that look good and sound good is quite an operational feat,” Hugo said. “It is really very hard to achieve and takes a lot of planning and lots of adjustments because it is just such an unmanageable project.”
From a choir director’s perspective, he said that memorizing the pieces can be difficult for students since the music is quite complex. Outside of normal in-class rehearsals, there are about six to eight additional rehearsals that run between two and three hours each to give students more time to learn the material.
Throughout the challenges, Snow prays for and tries to encourage his fellow students that even though the workload is difficult, it is an amazing opportunity and they must focus on what matters eternally.
“We try to provide experiences that will move [the audience] emotionally not just musically so when they leave, they will feel as though they have had ….a chance to engage with music,” Hugo said. “We hope that their soul is singing a little louder than when they went in. …That they feel like they are better people for being there.”
Whaley highly encouraged people to come attend the performances and see for themselves.
“I hope the community sees that Liberty University SOM can do anything any other school can do and better. Hundreds of other schools do Messiah, but we have really made progress and I think it will be an incredible event,” Whaley said.
While advertisements have gone up through the website, emails to parents and radio ads, Whaley said the biggest method has been word of mouth.
“We all hope that people come as many times as they can because it is a wonderful way to spend the evening…” said Hugo.
In the future, Whaley shared they would like to make the four nights of Christmas on the Boulevard an annual tradition. He envisions expanding even further and eventually he hopes to have the performances nationally televised. “We believe that we will really grow this,” Whaley said.
Above all, Whaley hopes the audience “would enjoy it and come rejoicing in what the Lord has done and celebrate the season.”