Medina Journal-Register — It’s the most wonderful time of the year — especially if you’re in the mood for holiday music. Local concerts are occurring throughout the area this weekend and the rest of the Christmas season.
Among the holiday highlights is the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, a new “old” Christmas tradition that continues to grow in the Medina area. Aaron Grabowski, Music Director and Principal Organist at Holy Trinity started the festival celebration four years ago. He was looking for a way to put Christ back in Christmas — not just for Catholics, but for all area Christians.
“When the Christmas season comes on like a whirlwind, folks have welcomed this opportunity to catch their breath and enjoy the true meaning of the season,” said Grabowski. “It only lasts about an hour, but that hour is filled with Christmas scripture and music. More and more folks have really come to make this the highlight of their Christmas season.”
The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols has been around for nearly one hundred years. In 1918, the dean of King’s Chapel at Cambridge College in England, wanted to try something new with a Christmas liturgy. He wove together scripture and song, called on readers of various ages from school and town, and created this seasonal gathering known as The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.
“The festival is Anglican in its roots,” said Grabowski. “However, many Christian denominations have adopted the event as their own ... it is very ecumenical in nature.”
The Medina festival, though hosted by Holy Trinity RC Parish, has participants from over fourteen area Christian congregations and is growing. The concert is being held at 7 p.m. Dec. 22, following a 30-minute pipe organ prelude. The event is supported and promoted by the Orleans Renaissance Group. The Medina Area Christian Theater has been a key participant for the past two years, and will return again this year. Members act out the Christmas scripture readings, adding a beautiful dimension to the liturgy.
Local students are also ready to display the selections they’ve been working on for the past three months, with concerts littering the pre-winter break schedule.
An A’Cappella Choir Concert kicks off Medina’s December performances. The concert is being held at 7 p.m. Sunday at St. Mary’s Church, 215 Eagle St. Medina’s high school holiday concert is at 7 p.m. Wednesday, with the concerts by sixth- and seventh-grade students at the same time Tuesday and fourth- and fifth-grade students Thursday.
Lyndonville’s senior high winter concert was Wednesday, but the Stroyan Auditorium will also host a concert by Grade 5-8 students at 7 p.m. Dec. 19.
In Albion, the high school talent showcase is at 7 p.m. tonight at the Middle School Auditorium; which is also hosting the middle school holiday concert (7 p.m. Tuesday), the elementary school holiday concert (7 p.m. Thursday), the high school chorus concert (7 p.m. Dec. 18) and the high school band concert (7 p.m. Dec. 20).
The Genesee Chorale’s Christmas Concert series kicks off tonight at the Methodist Church in Oakfield, and the event promises to be a breath of fresh air — the Chorale will feature the brand new Genesee Chorale Children’s Chorus, led by Heather Lovelace; the GreyCliffe String Quartet, the renowned string quartet from Buffalo; and famed soloist Kijana Crues of Rochester. Together with the Chorale, the artists will perform the program, “Scenes from the Nativity,” a retelling of the traditional Christmas Story, told entirely in song.
“The story we’re telling involves all of the players, from the shepherds, to the Star of David, to, of course, Mary and Joseph,” said director Ric Jones. “And all of our guest performers lend something unique to the performance. The Greycliffe instrumentalists, for instance, give the music an added dimension, a musicality,” he explained. “This will be one of those concerts that people will be talking about for the entire Christmas season.”
The Chorale added soprano soloist Kijana Crues after deciding to include “Behold the Star,” a gospel featuring a soprano soloist. Jones decided early he wanted to feature a guest soloist for the piece. “We asked our friends and connections at Eastman [School of Music] for suggestions, and out of everyone, her name kept coming up,” he said. They perused the many candidates from their social profiles available on YouTube, and from there, the decision was easy.
“She was the one,” said Jones.
Perhaps the guests most endearing to the Chorale—and, they suspect, to some of their audience members—are the new Children’s Chorus members, numbering just over a dozen singers from the Western New York region, and led by Depew music educator and Chorale soprano and board member Heather Lovelace.
“They’ve been working so hard,” said Lovelace. “One practice, we accidentally set off the burglar alarm, and we were outside the church for over 30 minutes while the police figured out the codes to reset it. And they actually started singing in the parking lot! I think it’s safe to say the concert’s pretty important to them.”
The Genesee Chorale performs Friday at 7 p.m. in the Methodist Church in Oakfield, and at 3 p.m. Sunday at the First Presbyterian Church in Leroy.
Jones is also the director of the Middleport Community Choir, which is hoping their holiday concert won’t continue a tradition of being snowed out. The choir is performing selections from Handel’s “Messiah” at 7 p.m. Dec. 14 at the Middleport Methodist Church.
The choir’s last two holiday concert in December have been delayed to January, but the main attraction won’t be the weather this year. Middleport Methodist organist Danielle Mileham is the event’s featured performer — members of many Middleport churches are also set to take part.
Rich and Elaine Lovelace are members of the Lessons and Carols choir. They also sing weekly in the Holy Trinity Parish choir where Elaine cantors at 11 a.m. Mass. Both have been involved with Lessons from the start and are huge fans of the event.
Said Rich Lovelace, “Lessons and Carols is certainly becoming the centerpiece of the Christmas season in Medina as Christmas should be in all of our lives. Participating in it with my Sisters and Brothers from local Christian congregations makes it even more special, symbolizing the love we all share in Christ. Everyone should come and experience this event, which brings us back to a reality of spirit through song and scripture.”
This year’s event will also see the addition of several musicians incorporated into the service. Among them will be Paul-Joseph Struckmann, leader of Buffalo’s Greycliffe String Quartet. A native of Lockport, Struckmann is a music educator in Buffalo.
“Performing in St. Mary’s will be something very special.” said Struckmann. “As someone who has grown up in a church as the son of a Lutheran minister, I have attended and participated in many worship services, and Lessons and Carols is one of my favorites. I think of it as a respite during the busy Advent season leading up to Christmas, an opportunity to catch my breath.”
Joining Struckmann will be Jones and trombonists Zach Busch, both natives of Medina. Busch is a music education major at the SUNY Fredonia School of Music and a member of the Fredonia Trombone Choir.
Also appearing will be local trumpeters Aaron and Paul Grabowski, both members of the Medina schools music program — Aaron in high school and Paul in middle school. Both are also musicians with the re-enactment fe and drums Old Fort Niagara.
This year’s festival will also see the addition of harpist Roxanne Ziegler of Rochester. Ziegler has played harp professionally since 1970. Starting her lessons at the age of 12, she studied with Eileen Malone at the Eastman School of Music and Lily Laskine in Paris. She has also been coached by leading harp professionals from around the country.
Scripture readers scheduled for this year’s event include Rev. Josh McGufe, St. Peter’s Lutheran, Medina; Suzanne Struckmann, Trinity Lutheran, Lockport; Marguerite Sherman, Holy Trinity RC Parish, Medina; Georgette and Margaret Stockmann, St. John’s Episcopal, Medina; Paul Hand, Our Lady of the Lake (St. Joseph’s) RC Parish, Lyndonville; Diane Krenning, Lyndonville Presbyterian; and Joy Bohnet, Trinity Lutheran, Lockport.
Additional information about A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols can be found at the Orleans Renaissance Group’s website — www.eggstreet.org.