The 1964 Vesper ceremony
The first Christmas Vesper service was held in 1940 at the Brockport State Normal School, and was directed by Miss Haynes. The ceremony consisted of a mixture of Yuletide carols and Bible readings, which were performed by the Special Chorus and Choir. These hundred voices filled the air with renditions of "Silent Night," "O Little Town of Bethlehem," and "Joy to the World" among many other traditional songs. The chorus asked for audience contribution at different moments in the program, and the audience responded with standing and joining in the songs. The Christmas Vespers was commonly broken up into the Prophecy, the Birth, and the Adoration, which are all part of the Biblical Christmas story.
The event grew increasingly popular, and by 1946, the Vespers ceremony was filled beyond capacity. As it became evident that there would not be enough room for all, students voluntarily gave up their seats, and stood in the back or left, so there would be enough room for visitors. The Men’s Glee Club participated this year, which was a special treat. The war had prevented young men from forming a choir to sing, and the only male voices had been those of the faculty.
In 1949, the college decided to make two separate ceremonies; there was one on Friday for the faculty and students, and another one on Sunday for visitors. Both ceremonies filled the auditorium. All 128 members of the combined choruses joined together to sing "O Come All Ye Faithful." The Women’s Glee Club sang "Noel! The Christ is Born," and "Ave Maria." The Men’s Glee Club sang "Lo, a Voice to Heaven Ascending," and "O Little Town of Bethlehem." They were accompanied by rich organ music and participation from the audience.
In 1953, the choir was complemented with members of the Modern Dance Club. The dancers participated to interpret the music and provide a more joyous atmosphere. In 1954, more than 200 members of the student body partook in the Christmas Vespers ceremony to make it the largest at that time.
1955 brought a change from the traditional Vesper ceremony. The Choral Groups, Modern Dance Club, and Dramatics Organization combined to make "A Mystery for Christmas in the Medieval Manner." This was not a detective play but rather a musical theatrical production based on an old XV Century Scriptural Play. Medieval costumes and scenery were designed, and even medieval or pseudo-medieval music was arranged for the production. Members of the dance club donned angel wings, and characters from the play occasionally came off stage and appeared in the aisles. The play was still based in Christianity and centered on the birth, death, and resurrection of Christ.
A cast of over 250 students participated in another mystery themed Christmas Vespers in 1956. This production was called, "A Mystery for Christmas" and was the same play as last year’s with a new method of staging and different overall effect.
The next several years brought more traditional Vespers ceremonies. The Christmas of 1962 was a more secular Vespers. This ceremony was broken into three parts like earlier ceremonies; however, rather than the Prophecy, the Birth, and the Adoration, this year the parts were the meaning of Christmas, sentimental notions of Christmas, and the religious aspect of Christmas. The choir sang "The Sleigh Ride," and "Winter Wonderland" for the first segment. For the nostalgic section, they sang "Christmas Back Home," and "I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas." The religious part included more traditional songs such as "The Shepherd’s Story," and "Jesus’ Christmas Lullaby."
Students rehearsing for the 1959 Christmas Vespers
Another format change was in hand for the Christmas Vespers of 1963. The College Community Chorus, professional soloists, and organ accompaniment joined together for Handel’s "Messiah". This much-loved work exemplifies the Christmas story (birth, death, and resurrection). "Messiah" was meant to be performed as a concert piece rather than a church service, so this was a major change from the typical Vespers service. In 1964, the College Community Choir performed "Magnificat" with soloists from the Eastman School of Music. "Magnificat" is the hymn of the Virgin Mary, as given in the gospel of St. Luke. The Choir performed the version composed by Bach. In 1965, the Choir performed the "Christmas Story" by Heinrich Schutz. The past several years had produced a pattern of concerts rather than religious services. The last noted Christmas ceremony was in 1967 with a performance of a Mozart piece.
American Democracy Project Lecture: Janet Poppendieck
5 pm - 5:45 pm