A Christmas Rose Amidst the Ashes

despite losing valuable rehearsal time when the tea fire closed campus, student musicians performed beautifully in december

christmas-musicJust three weeks after the Tea Fire destroyed several of their dorm rooms, instruments and choir uniforms, more than 160 students joyfully stepped on stage to present the fourth annual Westmont Christmas Festival the first weekend in December. “The last replacement shirt and tux arrived this morning,” said Michael Shasberger, Adams professor of music and worship and the artistic director of the Christmas festival, as he welcomed the audience to the first performance. “The last clarinet arrived just moments ago!” Despite the disruption and lost rehearsal time caused by the fire, the students performed well to record audiences.

The prophetic theme of the concert, “Lo, How a Rose,” proved to be appropriate as the Westmont community celebrated the promise of redemption in the midst of grieving. Over 2,100 people attended three performances at First Presbyterian Church, exemplifying the support of alumni, parents and friends in the community. The Christmas festival has drawn increasing numbers since its inception in 2005.

“The Santa Barbara community has looked to Westmont for great music for more than 50 years,” says Executive Vice President Cliff Lundberg. “The festival has quickly become a popular and widely anticipated Christmas event. The emotions and impact of the Tea Fire made the 2008 performance truly extraordinary.”

dancersAlong with the Westmont Orchestra, the festival featured the College Choir and Chamber Singers, Men’s and Women’s Chorales, and a First-Year Chamber Ensemble. Singers made full use of the church space, starting in a balcony and processing to the stage with candles as they sang.

The Westmont Windancers performed in the aisles during parts of the concert, and audience members joined in singing “Come, Thou Long Expected Jesus,” a selection from “Lo, How a Rose,” and a triumphant finale with Handel’s “Joy to the World.”

“This year’s program was a great example of the phrase ‘a leap of faith,’” Shasberger says. Having performed their fall concert only the week before, members of the orchestra were walking to their first rehearsal for the Christmas festival when the fire forced them to evacuate. Several brought their instruments and played in Murchison Gym as they waited for the danger to pass, but they had no chance to rehearse all together before the fire closed the campus.

Students took their music home with them to practice independently and even held small rehearsals in three locations throughout California where several musicians gathered.

“They did a marvelous job putting the program together with few rehearsals and in the midst of catching up on all their other course work,” Shasberger says. “I’m not saying I would choose this method of preparation every year, but it was witness to the faithfulness, skills and commitment of our students in this season.”

Westmont offers the Christmas festival free to the community and accepted donations for the first time this year, raising more than $1,500.

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