Monday, December 13, 2010

Christmas Candlelight Carols 2010, at First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC

On Sunday, December 12, at 4 PM, the First Baptist Church of the City of Washington DC held its 54th Annual Candlelight Carols Concert.

The current sanctuary had opened on Christmas Day, 1955. I was baptized in this church with my mother on January 29, 1956. Partly because of the size and active plan to supply stained glass windows (generally finished by the early 1960s), the facility soon attracted attention as a good location for events involving multiple choirs from multiple churches in Washington. The first Candlelight Carol service was held on December 8, 1957.

In the early days, many of the stained glass windows were not yet in place, and blue light came in from the southeast during Sunday morning services. Gradually, donations put the current system of stained glass in place

There is a Redemption Window in front, a Rose Window above the Bapistry, and side windows presenting various historic Baptist personalities, and events in the Life of Christ. Despite the controversy within the denomination over historical positions on social issues taken by Southern and American conventions (FBC is affiliated with both), the Baptist denomination, compared to many others, has always regarded a faith commitment as a personal one to be made by an informed adult or older minor. Theologically, it is closer to mainstream positions on individual rights in western democracies than is, perhaps, the authoritarian teachings of, for example, the Vatican.

My father’s fund, the John Boushka Memorial, with his wife and my mother, Margaret Boushka, contributed to several windows; my mother’s class contributed to Life of Christ windows.

The service yesterday was perhaps the grandest ever, lasting about 90 minutes, with deep bass from the organ all the time (a contrast for me to Saturday’s piano experience). It started with a brass and handbell concert with music arranged by Jim Lucas. As the program progressed, there was more music by the standard classical “good composers” (previous post). The Runnymede Singers performed Gustav Holst’s “Four Old English Carols” which sounded a bit like Vaughn Williams; later Jennifer Lowery, Shannon Steed and Deborah Miller performed the mini-cantata “Christmas Day” also by Gustav Holst (not quite on the scale of Ralph Vaughn Williams and “Hodie”, so well known since David Wilcox recorded it for Angel in 1965). The concert also presented two fragments from the unfinished oratorio Christus by Felix Mendelssohn: “Say Where He Is Born” (with Issachah Savage, Stephen Peters, and Terry Miller), and “There Shall a Star from Jacob Come Forth”, with the combined choirs. (It’s interesting that it’s Jacob and not Esau; a Freudian point.) When I think of “Christus”, I think of the 3-CD oratorio (conducted by James Conlon) by Franz Liszt, with its crunching embedded tone poem “March of the Three Wise Men” in the Christmas section, and the heaven-storming E-Major conclusion of the Easter part (the ending), matching the heroics of “Faust Symphony. Mendelssohn also wrote the music to the familiar carol “Hark, the Heald Angels Sing” which was also sung.

Post script: Cell phone picture from event, and subsequent gallery pictures.

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