Connecting With Christmas

“Mysteries of Christmas” provides an opportunity for meaning in the Holiday.

“This concert is a gift and we don’t want applause. This is about praise, rejoicing and anticipation for Advent.”

For Glenn Pohland, D.M.A., director of instrumental music at Loras College, the “Mysteries of Christmas” is a concert that ties directly to the College’s religious underpinnings.

“I think it is our Catholic identity and it is really important to me,” he said.

Beginning in 2005, the “Mysteries of Christmas” concert focused on providing a deeper looking into Christmas by combining liturgical readings and interpretive music to underline the true message of the season. Each component of concert revels in the anticipation of Christ’s coming — both his past incarnation at Christmas and his future return at the end of time.

The initial presentations of “Mysteries of Christmas” at Loras College were based both on the format of “Advent Lessons and Carols,” most popularly celebrated at King’s College, University of Cambridge, England, and the Stations of the Cross. Since that time, the event has developed to more effectively draw out its character as a popular devotion. As such, “Mysteries of Christmas” is intended to lead all who participate in it to a fuller, more conscious, more active and more joyous celebration of the present coming of Christ among us each and every time the Church celebrates the Eucharistic liturgy.

“One of the reasons I like working at a Catholic college is that we get to do an actual Christmas concert,” Jeremiah Cawley, Ph.D., director of choral and vocal activities, said. “I feel like our concert is a hybrid of a liturgy and a more traditional performance, and I find that to be a more moving way to enter into the Christmas season.”

He added, “I won’t feel like Christmas is coming until after the concert because the spirit of the concert starts the season for me.”

For the fifteenth “Mysteries of Christmas” concert, the Loras College choirs and bands will perform music arranged around the “O” Antiphons, seven brief snippets of a psalms recited preceding the Magnificat during Vespers of the Liturgy of the Hours. They cover the final seven days of Advent leading up to Christmas Eve.

In preparing for the concert, both Pohland and Cawley use the them to find the appropriate music. This year, the nature of the antiphons made the music selection relatively quick.

“When I am programming, I am thinking on a couple different levels: what fits the theme, what feels good within the concert and what suits my educational purposes. This year, it came together quickly. As I was going through the readings, pieces occurred to me were exactly right for what I needed. I always try to challenge the students to push themselves to do better,” Cawley explained.

Cawley and Pohland will work together to find the right flow for the performances to enhance the concert. Sometimes, that means moving or rearranging the order from what they originally planned, but it results in a more effective, spiritual performance that allows the audience and performers a chance to connect more deeply with the season.

“It lets us express our faith through music and I know our students feel that. There will be a moment in rehearsals when they have a musical experience that goes outside of themselves, akin to a religious moment so the music and religion come together in this concert,” Pohland said.

Both Cawley and Pohland appreciate the unique experience the “Mysteries of Christmas” provides to the students performing in the concert and look forward to the way they are able to find a deeper meaning within the music.

Pohland said, “Preparation is much the same as other concerts, but toward the end, there is a sense of esthetic beyond just hitting the notes and knowing the music. There is a point where the students connect with the meaning and it is beautiful. To have faith is a good thing.”

“Mysteries of Christmas” will be performed at Steeple Square in Dubuque on December 10 at 7:30 pm.