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Choirs give Advent a Chance

Posted on March 28, 2019 By Fada Herbert in Interviews



Year in, year out, one can notice the Season of Advent being elbowed out of its place. This year is no exception. I just read above a poster inviting everyone to a Christmas concert on Saturday 1st December 2018, when we're still in Ordinary Time! That date is just one day over, and we would have had Christmas Concerts in November!

It may do a disservice to our individual preparation for Christmas if, as the signals portrayed, we would have already entered into Christmas mode and started having concerts before the 1st Sunday of Advent! Whereas we will be hearing "Be ready for your God", or "Prepare the way for the Lord" on the coming Sundays at Mass, (or Angel Gabriel announcing to Mary or Zechariah), the new born baby Jesus would already have been sung to by Angels and visited by the 3 Wise men during concerts!

Let's ask ourselves a question: can we organise an Easter concert before Holy Week? Is it just for nothing that these Liturgical Seasons have an order? Should this order mean something to us, as Catholics? Let's give Advent a chance oh, it is also a very rich season!

It's becoming a pattern, that each year, the dates of Christmas concerts are anticipated more and more. Maybe it's because there are so many talented choirs nowadays, and the number of days (weekends) around Christmas won't permit all of them to organise separate concerts without there being clashes of dates/venues. But if our choirs are primarily liturgical, then we must think of a way out of this difficulty, even if it means suppressing individual concerts in favour of a joint parish choir concert at the appropriate time.

However, given the stakes, I see three ways out:
1. Please, Music Directors, it's not a bad idea to include an Advent dimension to your Christmas concerts, in case you've already set your dates. Do that by inserting Advent songs as first part of your concert: songs like "O Come, O Come Emmanuel", "His Name, His Name" and any carol on John the Baptist. Let's search online. And help the MC of the concert make good introductions.

2. Another way out, perhaps for next year, is to note that Advent is divided into 2 parts: from the beginning to 16 December, then from 17-23 December. During the 2nd part, the Mass readings, Gospel Acclamations (The "O" antiphons etc), are already festive, and are almost asking Jesus to "Come quickly"! That is really the period to have the concerts, to be honest. It's shocking that at times, there is hardly a concert after 25 December. That may really mean that choristers are under the impression that Christmas is just a single day, whereas its really a season that ends about 2 - 3 weeks after 25 December. Let's give Advent a chance!

3. The 3rd way out is to just be creative all together. The St John Paul II choir, Buea, once organised a Lenten Concert, on Palm Sunday, during which it chose some Holy week songs, e.g. "O Come and Mourn", "O Sacred Head surrounded" and gave solemn renditions punctuated by beautiful commentaries run by the MC about the background of the songs. The total concert repertoire was just about 10 songs, no gatefee, 1hr duration, and that was it.....but that was the best preparation I ever had for Holy Week, and which really begs for a repeat!

Following that example, is it not time to be pastorally & musically creative about Advent? Is it possible to have a concert that focuses only on Advent, without fast forwarding our hearing of "Gloria in excelsis"/"Christ is born? Even G.F. Handel's Oratorio The Messiah can give us about 10 classics. So to say, even Advent and theme of the coming, can be musically productive, and at the same time spiritually uplifting.

But what about doing something else, apart from concerts? What can choirs do about Catholic practices like lighting the weekly candles on the Advent Wreath? Or the Advent Tree, which is a roll call of all major persons involved in Jesus' family tree? Can choirs help families trace out their own "Gospel history" like that of Christ? Let's explore rather than doing the same thing every year. I know for sure that whereas Music Directors have multiple songs in their files for funerals, weddings, ordinations, Lent/Easter/Carols, the fewest songs in most of our files will be AdventšŸ˜”. Any wonder why the singing in our churches on those 4 Sundays of Advent is often repetitive (and boring)? And please, don't blame the Cameroon Hymnal!

Let's give Advent a chance!
By Fr. Herbert Niba

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Fada Herbert is a Roman Catholic priest of the Diocese of Buea. He is equally an author, songwriter and has written several articles in the areas of Philosophy, fiction, Religion and Society Follow him on Facebook, twitter and visit his website at www.mydailysong.net

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