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Christmas Vespers performance set for December 7

The annual Randolph College Christmas Vespers will kick off the holiday season on Sunday, December 7, at 7:30 p.m. in Houston Memorial Chapel with performances of classical choral music that tells the Christmas story.

The Vespers is uniquely crafted every year by the director and leadership of Chorale, the College’s premier performing ensemble, and assisted by the Chamber Orchestra of student musicians from Randolph College and Virginia Episcopal School.

“Vespers has always been sort of magical to me,” said Chelsea Fox ‘15, former president of Chorale, who has been participating in the tradition for five years. “The atmosphere is always gorgeous and the music amplifies that.”

Christmas Vespers has been a tradition at the College for several decades. Now an annual event, the performance features a dramatic progression of readings and carols that tell the Christmas story, including Biblical excerpts from the Garden of Eden through prophecy to the birth of Jesus. This year’s repertoire will begin with a mesmerizing chant written by Hildegard Von Bingen, O Virga ac diadema, and close with an intricate piece by Bach, Cantate No. 64.

Christmas Vespers is a tradition not only for Randolph College, but also for Randall Speer, the music professor who has directed the event for 13 years. “It never feels to me like the Christmas season until the Vespers,” Speer said. “I personally consider myself very lucky to be an integral part of a longstanding tradition at an institution that places high value on tradition.”

Being on sabbatical this semester, Speer entrusted the Vespers to Orlando Cela, visiting professor of music.

For the student musicians, the Vespers is a very special way to study a specific subset of sacred music. “About two-third or more of choral music is sacred, historically speaking, so it is appropriate to examine it in a variety of ways, including in a larger context such as Vespers provides,” said Speer.

Shannon Baskin ‘18, who is participating in Christmas Vespers for the first time, said that the challenge of performing the Vespers music has helped her strengthen her performing skills. “I have learned a lot about blending and working to match the tone of my singing with those around me,” she said. “How you sound alone is not what is important. It’s how you sound together as a unit.”

Preparing for Christmas Vespers brings every member of the performing group together. Baskin especially enjoyed decorating the chapel after one recent rehearsal. “It felt almost like a family gathering,” she said. “Sipping apple cider and singing traditional carols as we decorated made me feel at home.”

For the audiences, Christmas Vespers may also warm their spirits with graceful melodies to which they can sing along. Stuart Pratuch ‘18, another member of Chorale, also appreciates this interaction with the audience. “It’s phenomenal to perform,” he said. “We care so much about the music that it’s great being able to share our love for it with our audience.”


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