Christmas (in Christ Chapel) Comes Early

On December 19, Gusties and friends from around the world will experience CinCC in a new way and see the hard work of a devoted campus community.
Posted on October 26th, 2020 by

Christmas in Christ Chapel filming featured socially distant musical groups recorded one at a time.

by Corinne Stremmel ’21

The show must go on, and for Gustavus Adolphus College’s Christmas in Christ Chapel planning committee, it was never a question of if it would happen this year, but merely how.

So how do choirs, orchestra, musical ensembles, and dancers perform together in the middle of a pandemic?

“It became pretty clear last spring that this may not happen how we thought it would,” said Barb Larson Taylor, associate vice president of marketing and communication.

The planning committee had initially anticipated a huge production with mass choral and instrumental pieces, but as 2020 drew on, plans for something different began to take shape.

Instead of the usual live performance, everything would need to be pre-recorded, with people more than six feet apart and masked. Fortunately, the planning committee found a way to do this safely. By adopting a “Lessons and Carols” format, the committee came up with the theme “Healer of the Nations, Come.”

“We could’ve said ‘forget it, it’s just too hard,’ but there are some things that are important to this institution and the community that, even when we’re in a pandemic, we want to keep doing no matter what,” Larson Taylor said.

Even as planning for Christmas in Christ Chapel took shape over the summer, the committee wasn’t sure that it would be safe to have musicians together at all. But a study by the University of Colorado about the safety of music performance during the pandemic showed that there was no greater risk to singing with a mask on than speaking with a mask on. If students were eight feet apart with proper air exchange, the show could go on.

Knowing this, directors got creative with music choices. With returning students completing their studies away from campus during the first few weeks of the semester, ensembles needed music challenging enough for college musicians but that could also be pulled together in a short time frame.

“It just felt so good to be able to come back and make beautiful music together and be in community again,” Jon and Anita Thomsen Young Distinguished Endowed Chair in Music and Conductor of the Gustavus Choir Brandon Dean said, recalling the joy felt when students returned in late September. Rehearsal began immediately.

Dean and the rest of the planning committee recognized the need for healing in the world and how it could be reflected in both the music and readings for this year’s service. “All of our readings are taken from scripture this year, which I think helps show Christ coming into the world as a healer,” said Dean.

This year’s Christmas in Christ Chapel worship service was recorded October 22-25.

In this time of loss for students and others, the committee wanted to focus on the somber mood of a world in need of healing while also celebrating the joy of the season. For many, Christmas in Christ Chapel is more than a worship service. It’s a way to welcome the promise of the Christmas season.

To celebrate, students have kept up with their usual traditions like devotions and dress-up days. “For me, it’s not Christmas until it’s CinCC,” said Holly Fitterer ’21, Gustavus Choir alto. This year, Christmas came early, as the service was recorded in Christ Chapel from October 22-25.

There are advantages to the new pre-recorded form. The 40-year-old tradition of “O Come All Ye Faithful” will have new impact this year with hundreds of alumni joining in with their own video recordings. This year, audience members won’t have to be physically present in Christ Chapel to sing along with the choirs. The production company, Heroic Productions (led by Jon Young ’77), was able to take advantage of an empty Christ Chapel, which helped the committee try out new production elements. For instance, set designer Lydia Francis ’11 made several paintings that were projected on the chapel walls in a way that has never been done before.

It may be the dark days of a pandemic, but Gusties always shine. Christmas in Christ Chapel will still bring Gusties together to tell the Christmas story, especially when its message is needed most.

Christmas in Christ Chapel 2020, “Healer of the Nations, Come,” will premiere on Saturday, December 19 at 7:30 p.m. CST. The worship service will be offered free of charge and will be available to watch on demand following the online debut. For more information, visit the Christmas in Christ Chapel website. Viewers who register to watch by December 7 will be mailed a Christmas in Christ Chapel program.


Media Contact: Director of Media Relations and Internal Communication JJ Akin


One Comment

  1. Brenda Leske says:

    It was amazing !