About thirty years ago, Viretta Sexton became the choir director at the First Presbyterian Church in Kennett. She is a hugely talented musician and choral director. At that time, her only outlet for that talent and energy was the church choir, and the Christmas Eve musical services were big productions. The choir began working months ahead of time. Guest singers from other churches joined for extra rehearsals. She brought in soloists from out of town and sometimes even small orchestras. It was heady stuff.
Then she began working in the schools, first in Caruthersville and then in Kennett. There she transformed the "chorus" class into a prestige program. Her students were disproportionately represented at All-District, All-Division and All-State choirs. At formal dress concerts, the students displayed all the awards they had won in competition, with the seniors wearing more medals than a Ugandan dictator.
With so much time and energy going into her students, the Christmas Eve service became a great deal less elaborate. It was always good music, but not quite so demanding of rehearsal time and ancillary performers.
Upon her retirement from teaching, our Christmas Eve service has fallen into a rather wonderful rhythm. Her former students return home for the holidays and enjoy the chance to sing together and with her again. Because they have had all that good training and practice, the rehearsal schedule has become remarkably compressed. Even with very challenging music, we have just two marathon 3-hour rehearsals. It is very cool.
The service always includes passages of scripture denoting man’s passage from the Garden of Eden into sinfulness, and on to his hope of redemption through the birth of Jesus. These readings punctuate the musical performance and give an underpinning which helps one appreciate how each song tells its part of the story. Some favorite songs return every year, but there is always something new for the singer and the listener. It’s the one night of the year when our sanctuary is filled to bursting with folks who have made the service a linchpin of their family’s Christmas celebration. Our choir’s usual eight stalwarts are joined by sixty or more and the sound is terrific. It’s kind of a musical version of the loaves and the fishes.
I’ve got a funny story about the rehearsal, but it just doesn’t fit right here right now.
Have a Merry Christmas.