Each December, I have the pleasure of directing an 80-voice choir in a seasonal community concert. We call this annual concert A JOYOUS CHRISTMAS, and it is truly one of the highlights of my year. Our choir is comprised of singers from churches all across our town (Bastrop, TX), and everyone participates on a volunteer basis. Over the four years of its existence, A JOYOUS CHRISTMAS has quickly become a cherished tradition for our community, and an event that many people, singers and audience members alike, look forward to all year long.
So, for this edition of THINKING OUTSIDE THE LOFT, I thought I might share some of the guiding principles that have made A JOYOUS CHRISTMAS a success. This, of course, is in the hope that you might try organizing a similar concert for your own community in the future.
A JOYOUS CHRISTMAS (AJC) was not my idea. It was the brainchild of a lady in our town. She and her pastor were responsible for casting the original vision for this event and organizing its first steering committee. (And, four years later, they both remain an indispensable part of our planning and organizing team.) Early on in their initial planning, they asked me to come on board as musical director, and it has been my pleasure to serve in that capacity ever since.
The first thing needed to pull off a project as large as AJC is an efficient planning committee. For us, the planning for AJC lasts all year long. As soon as the New Year is behind us, we begin having monthly meetings laying the groundwork for the next concert.
Our vision for AJC involved inviting singers from churches all across our town to come together to present a free concert for our community. So, that first summer we set to work meeting with every pastor and music minister we could find. We decided it would be a non-auditioned group, and we literally invited everyone. By the end of that first summer, we had singers representing 9 churches in our community. As of this writing (2019), our choir now represents fourteen churches of many different denominations!
We also envisioned that AJC would be a way for folks to “give back” to our community. To that end, we decided that while the concert itself would be free and open to the public, we would give those in attendance an opportunity to donate their financial resources to a local charity or ministry. So, another task undertaken by our planning committee was (and continues to be) finding an appropriate charity or ministry.
In our town, we are blessed to have a wonderful Performing Arts Center, which is under the auspices of our local school system. Hoping that our concert(s) would be well attended, we thought this venue would be the perfect home for AJC. However, we also knew that renting a space as large as our Performing Arts Center would not be cheap, so we decided we would ask local businesses to sponsor the event. And, this tradition continues to this day. In exchange for a donation to AJC, sponsoring businesses receive ad space in our program as well as routine “shout outs” on our social media platforms. This money also serves to buy music for the singers and pay for food at rehearsals, etc.
Rehearsals for the event begin in early fall, and they occur at my home church. Although the actual dates change from year to year, our typical rehearsal schedule looks something like this:
- SEPTEMBER: We hold one Saturday practice from 8:00 AM to 3:00 pm (breakfast and lunch included).
- OCTOBER: We hold one Saturday practice from 8:00 AM to 3:00 pm (breakfast and lunch included).
- NOVEMBER: We hold two bi-weekly practices from 7:00 pm to 8:30 pm (no food included).
- DECEMBER: We hold one practice every week until the concert (which usually happens just a few days before Christmas).
Now, this schedule has changed from year to year, and we are always in the process of tweaking it. Fall is a busy time for everyone, and we do not want folks to feel like we are asking too much of their time. But, we do need to practice enough that everyone feels sufficiently well prepared.
In terms of the repertoire chosen for the concert, we perform only Christ-centered, sacred choral music. This was a rule that we decided to enforce early on in the planning of the first concert. Now, don’t misunderstand, we have tons of laughter and fun in the concert, and we present plenty of upbeat tunes. But, we just want to provide folks with one evening where Santa Claus “stays home.” Sometime during the evening’s festivities, we feature our chosen recipient for the donations, and we conclude with a reading of the Christmas Story from Luke 2. Typically, the concert lasts between 60 to 90 minutes.
The benefits from this concert have been unbelievable. To mention just a few:
- Many people love the experience of participating in a choir, but attend churches where traditional choral programs are no longer offered. This concert provides these folks with a chance to be in choir again (even if only for a few months of the year).
- Churches seldom reach out and fellowship together across denominations. But, we have seen firsthand that having churches of all types working together for the community is a wonderful experience, and it has brought me into contact with folks from other faith traditions that I might not ever have had the opportunity to meet. And, strengthening the bond of Christ within the churches of a community is never a bad thing!
- Finally, we have a great opportunity to raise financial resources for the ongoing work of Christ’s Kingdom!
I hope that you might be inspired to start an event in your community that is similar to AJC. I know I have only given a very “bird’s-eye view” of the planning and organization of such an event. But, if you are interested in pursuing something like this in the future, I would be more than happy to speak with you and offer further advice or answer any questions you might have. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
In the meantime, I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas, and a blessed New Year!
Editor’s note: Please enjoy these selections from Brad Nix…