illustrations by Ren Rader
Music brings people together, and there isn’t a time that this is truer than during the holiday season. Trinity’s Department of Music works hard throughout the year to provide the community with amazing performances, but in the month of December, the department puts on two annual performances that aim at uniting not only the Trinity community but the greater San Antonio community as well.
The first of the events is Trinity’s Holiday Concert, which occurs on Dec. 6 in Laurie Auditorium. This will be the twenty-sixth year that the Department of Music puts on the performance.
It was originally started by Genie Calgaard, the wife of former university president Ronald Calgaard. The goal at the time was to put on a holiday performance that included all of the major ensembles on campus.
“We like to think of the concert as our gift to the San Antonio community,” said Diane Persellin, director of the Trinity Handbell Ensemble. “We also have around 250 Trinity students performing in the concert, so it will be the largest musical event with student performers on campus.”
Before the concert begins, a number of small ensembles will play in the lobby, including the Trinitones, AcaBellas, flute ensemble, string quartet, brass trio and saxophone quartet.
The concert itself will feature the Trinity Symphony Orchestra, Trinity Handbell Ensemble, Symphonic Wind Ensemble and a performance by the Combined Choirs and Symphony Orchestra. Because this concert involves all the major ensembles on campus, it also acts as a way for the Department of Music to come together.
“Although each ensemble is on its own to prepare for this monumental event, the dress rehearsal and performance both provide an opportunity for all of us to support and show our appreciation for each other,” said Joseph Kneer, conductor of the Trinity Symphony Orchestra. “Oftentimes, students play in multiple ensembles, so the mere sight of those players dashing in and out of various ensembles during the performance also shows how interconnected and dependent we are on one another.”
The concert is always a challenge to put together simply because of all the people that are involved but is even more so this year because the concert falls in the middle of final exams due to the late date of Thanksgiving and the academic calendar. The Handbell Ensemble will also just be returning from their trip to New York during which they will have performed at Carnegie Hall and Radio City Music Hall.
“Trinity students never fail to impress me,” Persellin said. “We have students from every major on campus, but they still value music enough to want to be a part of this.”
Another major event for the music department is the annual Christmas Vespers worship service, which will be held in Parker Chapel on Dec. 8.
Beginning in the 1960s, this service combines a traditional worship service with music based on familiar carols and consists of alternating between singing and scripture. This year, the choir will consist of over 100 singers, and there will also be performances by faculty members, such as Joseph Kneer on violin and Jacquelyn Matava on vocals.
“We always have a great turnout, and the chapel is usually full at least 30 minutes before the service officially begins,” Heller said.
One of the aspects of Christmas Vespers, and one it doesn’t share with the Holiday Concert, that makes the service special is its spiritual aspect.
“The special thing about this service is that it is music in the context of worship and done within a sacred space,” Heller said.
The service brings people back every year, and this is, in part, due to the power of music to bring people together especially in the holiday season.
Heller elaborated on the role of music in worship services like this.
“Music appeals to the senses and emotions that just reading scripture does not,” Heller said. “It makes the worship service that much more powerful because of that.”
Kneer shared similar sentiments about the role of music to unite the community.
“Music is a deeply emotional and psychological reminder of our shared humanity and the beauty all around us,” Kneer said. “When we express our humanity through playing an instrument, singing or listening, in this case during a season important to many faith traditions, we enhance and reaffirm the values and experiences that unite us as a community and a city.”