GREATEST CHORUS IN YEARS HONORS TWO OF OUR GREATEST MONKS
St. Benedict’s Annual Christmas Program delights all in attendance
Dec. 20, 2016
It must have been the presence of the spirits of Fr. Boniface Treanor, O.S.B., and Fr. Mark Payne, O.S.B., who made their exit, ‘stage right,’ from this mortal life last summer – because the spirit of the St. Benedict’s Forty-Fourth Annual Christmas Program radiated ‘a little bit of heaven’ on Monday evening.
And, so, dedicating this review to Frs. Boniface and Mark, we report that at least sixty Benedict’s men entered from stage-right last evening and chorused from the risers in energetic unison to the inimitable and unflagging direction of Fr. Albert Holtz, O.S.B. We have not heard so large a number of voices in the Program in the past twenty-five years – and near-thirty of those voices were members of the Class of 2017! Certainly, we will never fathom the ‘miracle’ that inspired so many seniors to answer Fr. Al’s rehearsal calls back in November, but answer they did – and the result was nothing less than powerful and stupendous singing! Of course, the rest of the chorus was wonderfully represented by excellent voices from all other grades: LDs, Freshmen, and UD ones and twos.
Since Fr. Mark Payne had been the head of the stage crew and the principal projectionist of the Christmas Program for decades, we note in his honor the meaningfully beautiful slides – from works of religious art to scenes of Benedict’s life – that are the visual mainstay and ‘motion’ behind the music of every Program.
This year’s repertoire, many images probably chosen over the years by Fr. Mark, included a large photo of ‘himself ’ – out on the Appalachian Trail in his yellow rain gear – beaming into our eyes and hearts. And, miraculously, Fr. Mark looked down upon us just as the powerful chorus, led by soloist Justin Dickerson, roused the audience to its feet upon the great Gospel rhythm and words of “Soon and Very Soon”! As Dickerson’s remarkable voice intoned “should there be any river you must cross; should there be any mountain you must climb” and, then, segued into “no more cryin’ there, we are goin’ to see the King!” – Fr. Mark’s smile seemed to grow broader and broader, as if he were telling us that he has – indeed – ‘gone to see the King!’
And, because our dear Fr. Boniface had other things to do than sing in the Monks choir as usual, we note, despite his absence, the strong and harmonious work presented by the mellifluous monastic sextet—surely inspired by Fr. Boniface’s prayers and presence. While we are always delighted by the joyful “Veni Divin Messie”, sung in French by Fr. Al and backed up by the monks in English, we note, most especially this year, the resonantly melodic “Oh Sacred Head Surrounded”. This mournful hymn, accompanying slides depicting Jesus’ death, as the Christmas story leads him through Good Friday and Easter, and on to Heaven, always brings a candle-lit hush upon the audience. Sung in seamless a capella harmony by Frs. Albert, Augustine and Luke and Brs. Asiel, Max, and Simon, the hymn rang with such strength and beauty that its subject of death still invoked life – especially the ‘risen’ life. And we are certain that the wonderful sounds reached the heart of Fr. Boniface, now singing in a different choir!
Most notable also was the inspiring solo-work of Christian Edwards (pictured, right) in “A Voice Cries Out”, as well as Edwards’ almost heart-rending sound in the Gospel duet of “I Can’t Give Up Now, with his ‘Gospel-equal’, Justin Dickerson. This a capella
Afro-American ‘aria’ was one of the great highlights of the evening, leaving this writer, at least, breathless with its power and beauty! We hope that Messrs. Dickerson and Edwards will continue their fine Gospel singing well beyond their days at St. Benedict’s.
And, as usual, a fine and large audience enjoyed participating in the ‘sing-along’ carols conducted by Fr. Albert –whose own bass solo overlay to the choir’s “O Come, Emannuel” was wonderfully strong and resonant, rising powerfully above sixty other precise and energetic young voices. Our other favorites of the evening included the happy Bahamanian call-and-response carol, “He Born” and the great and engulfing ‘sound waves’ of “The Spirit Is A-Movin’” – until, so well-carried and enhanced this year by all those ‘older’ voices on the back risers, the final crescendo of “King of Kings” almost crashed through the rafters of Conlin Auditorium – and we were all on our feet!
We hope that the seniors who came out in such numbers this year to create one of the best Christmas Programs ever, will inspire succeeding seniors – and all students – to participate in this greatest of all St. Benedict’s events. For never have I seen such happy faces as the ones of those ‘older guys’, who backed the fine voices of their younger ‘brothers’ with almost-operatic grandeur and palpable joy! We especially thank, then, of the class of 2017, the Messrs. J. Aguirre, M. Aguirre, Arriaza, Benedict, Bhatti, Cardona, Carmona, Conklin, Curtis, Dickerson, Edwards, Estrella, Gavilanes, George, Kimonawoko, Lanier, Lozin, Miranda, Narcisse, Okaro, M. Pereira, N. Rodriguez, Rosa, L.Silva, T. Torres and T. Wright. And seniors playing in the wonderful pit orchestra, conducted by Maestro Fletcher: Messrs. DeVasia, Moreno, and Woody – whose solo trumpet work certainly ‘cried out like a voice in the wilderness’! Merry Christmas to us all – and especially to Fr. Boniface and Fr. Mark in heaven!