Last weekend, the Santa Clara Chorale’s 2015 Christmas concert, “An Evening of Lessons & Carols,” paired readings on Christmas themes with traditional and contemporary carols from around the world.
Each set of three or four carols, which dated from the 1500s, reflected a theme–wonder, community, joy, loss and peace–and was preceded by a reading by an invited community member. The readings brought to mind the Chorale’s 2014 holiday concert, which commemorated the WWI story of “The Christmas Truce” of 1914, through the reading of letters from troops.
“This was a community event, a program we couldn’t put together just by ourselves,” said Santa Clara Chorale Artistic Director Scot Hanna-Weir, who chose the concert themes and the accompanying carols, sung in five languages. He gave the speakers complete freedom in interpreting the themes.
“I wanted to hear what these words meant to them,” said Hanna-Weir.
Greg Plant, co-manager with his wife, Pat Plant, of Immanuel House for Refugees, a ministry of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), read the reflections on wonder written by Afghan refugee Farzad Seddiqi, who was unable to be there.
“I’ve been in America for a month. Everything is new to me, so I am in a constant state of wonder….I got offered my first job. I’m excited to get started earning an income….I have discovered shopping. There is so much to choose from here. Suddenly I get to choose between 100 different kinds of cereal….People have been so helpful and seem to really care about me…,” read Plant.
Santa Clara City Clerk and Auditor Rod Diridon, Jr., spoke about community, quoting President Theodore Roosevelt from “The Doer.” Of those who strive valiantly, win or fail, “their place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
Chorale member Ida Strickland read from Kahlil Gibran “On Joy and Sorrow.” Pat Plant reflected on loss, a loss experienced by refugees so great “that people in American can’t even imagine it,” yet who came here believing in the American dream.
Rev. Jethroe Moore II, president of the San Jose/Silicon Valley NAACP, read “Amazing Peace: A Christmas Poem” by Maya Angelou: “Peace. We look at our world and speak the word aloud. Peace. We look at each other, then into ourselves And we say without shyness or apology or hesitation. Peace, My Brother. Peace, My Sister. Peace, My Soul.”
“Peace and grace be to this house/ Where all are welcomed in,” sang the Chorale in the opening lines of the 2013 “Carol of the Stranger” by Abbie Betinis. The audience joined in singing select verses of traditional carols such as “O Come All Ye Faithful” and, near the concert’s close, “Silent Night,” accompanied on the organ by James Welch.
“This concert really was a little bit different for us. Here you are in a beautiful mission with emphasis on Christian Christmas, and what we tried to do is tie in what’s happening in the world with the Christmas season, a season for peace and understanding that all people, not just Christians, can relate to,” said Ron Paradies, president of the Santa Clara Chorale Board of Directors.
“O Holy Night, O night divine…Truly He taught us to love one another,” sang soprano soloist Peggy Grettum, reflecting the concert’s closing theme.
“It was a delightful pairing of arresting thoughts and poetry with heart-warming carols–familiar and new,” said Los Gatos resident Dale Bracey, summing up the evening as he left the beauty of Mission Santa Clara and walked out into the dark of a cold, still December evening, now warmed by a community of friends and strangers momentarily united in song and verse.
Santa Clara Chorale’s next concert, “Songs of Youth” on March 11 and 13, 2016, focuses on music written early in the careers of composers. The almost 90-member, non-profit community chorale (www.scc.org) is supported in part by grants from the city of Santa Clara.