‘RINGING-IN’ BOTH OLD AND NEW! – AT ST. BENDICT’S PREP’S 47th ANNUAL CHRISTMAS PROGRAM
Dec. 19, 2019
Bravo! – as usual – to the more-than-fifty students who sang, played and read in last night’s St. Benedict’s Prep 47th Annual Christmas Program. What a great showing! And bravissimo to Fr. Al and the rest of our music teachers, and other faculty as well, who indefatigably rounded-up all these singers, players and readers for rehearsals – a feat in itself! Accolades also to one of the largest audiences in recent years. Their enthusiastic responses quite obviously buoyed up our young performers with an electric and inspirational appreciation.
Just a year ago, we emphasized in this review the wonderful, unchanging traditions that feed and form the music and readings of the Program. Many of us delight in having felt ‘the spirit a-movin’ our community into the glory of ‘the King of Kings’ without missing a beat – some since Fr. Albert Holtz, O.S.B. ‘60, playing solo guitar, first conducted the Program in 1974. But today, in this ‘Christmas present’ of 2019, we take note of some of those many delightful changes that have echoed into the repertoire and personnel over the decades – yet without altering the familiar music and texts, the traditional readings – or our continuingly-loved Fr. Mark Payne’s Christmas slide ceremony, so consistently carried on by Ms. Patricia Flynn H’95 and her tech crew, this year headed by Israel Small.
Witness, then, the now-permanent addition of the student-faculty pit orchestra, most recently under the direction of the incomparable Maestro – Dr. Fletcher for over a decade – and always including moving solo flute preludes by Ms. Michelle Tuorto H’16. This group of student and faculty instrumentalists seems to grow in excellence every year. They outdid themselves in the accompaniment on Thursday evening. The instrumentalists were wonderfully supported also by two of our Benedictine Volunteers: Kevin Lamb on trombone and Ryan Gall on violin. Mr. Gall’s ‘solo overlay’ during the choral rendition of “For the Beauty of the Earth” was ethereal and exceptional. Student personnel in the pit included Messrs. Abbott, Benanti, Correira, D’Arcy, and Morales—as well as returning-alumnus, Mr. J. Groome ‘19.
A most essential addition to the Program in recent years has been the piano accompaniment by Dr. Dennis Lansang H’18 – no mere playing by a hired pianist, but by a musical faculty member who knows the score and the students – contributing integral piano back-up and ensuring the ’chemistry’ of every voice, every note, every nuance. We also note that, until the advent of the truly ‘melodic’ photography of Mr. Michael Scanlan H’07, in the past decade at least, no one could hold in their hands the candle-lit visages of singing monks and students – and almost hear the music transcending pictorial limits, pouring forth by way of Mr. Scanlan’s photographic artistry. This year’s photos are no exception. You can view them by clicking here. And, not-so-new at this point – but still ‘different’ – the presence of many young ladies from the Middle Division added both strong and delicate nuances to the overall sound of the Program.
Also, and importantly, at center-stage, another ‘new tradition:’ Maestro Joshua Mauldin, our excellent choral instructor who arrived at SBP this year. Maestro Mauldin is a Manhattan School of Music man with a sweeping historical knowledge of classical and popular vocal repertoire. He is a most virtuosic instructor and conductor, able to inspire even the stodgiest sophomore into song. And he teaches piano! Mr. Mauldin now completes the long-envisioned SBP music department, created and shouldered alone by Fr. Al with the Gospel Choir in the seventies and, most recently, carried forward by saxophonist and composer, Dr. Fletcher. We look forward to an exciting collaboration by our three ‘maestri’ – perhaps, as this writer has often-hoped, leading to a rejuvenation of the Gospel Choir. This year, in his debut participation, Mr. Mauldin contributed two delightful African pieces – first, “Betelehmu,” from the Yoruba tradition in Nigeria and sung by a fine group of students and faculty; then, “We are Marching” (Siyahama), a South African hymn, sung by the full chorus, which Mr. Mauldin conducted from the piano. He also worked with Fr. Albert in many rehearsals. So, “Welcome, Yule!” – as the carol goes – and welcome, Maestro Mauldin!
Our nicely-enlarged Monks’choir, comprised of Fr. Al, Fr. Augustine, Fr, Luke, Fr. Max, Bro. Asiel, Bro. Mark, Bro. Patrick, Bro. Robert and Bro. Simon Peter gave a spirited rendition in French and English of “O, Come, Divine Messiah,” a Program carol much- loved by this writer over the years. We especially remember our revered friend and ‘senior voice’, Fr. Boniface Treanor, O.S.B. ‘47, on his fourth Christmas in Heaven. His spirit is always present to us. Fr. Boniface would smile in happy approval of our newer monks and novice, Bro. Robert, as they sang last night. Fr. Boniface’s candle in the Monk’s choir is never extinguished!
As often happens, we were unable to ascertain the names of all the performers, but they are included here ‘in spirit’, in this delighted appreciation of some of the Program’s traditional highlights. “For the Beauty of the Earth” was simple and elegant, underscored by the silvery voices of our female participants – again including the ethereal violin sound of Ryan Gall. “O, Come Emmanuel” presented Fr. Al’s bass-baritone at its finest, as he also conducted and elicited a strong sound from the chorus. Our own perennial favorites, “Soon and Very Soon,” “The Spirit is a-Movin” and “King of Kings” were rendered strongly and melodically by the entire chorus, with exceptional solo work by Fernando Duran.
Since Thursday evening’s Program was dedicated to recently-deceased Spencer George Vespole ’09, our brilliant and beloved history teacher, athlete – and spectacular student and guitarist in the back corner of my Senior Religion class in 2008-09, we comment now on ‘Senior participation’ in the Program: I cannot recall if Mr. Vespole sang in the Christmas Program, although I suspect that he may have. But for Seniors who are on their way ‘outta here,’ singing in the Program often seems a bit ‘corny’ – something they may have done in seventh grade perhaps, before they became ‘grown ups.’ So, unless a Senior is a veteran participant, it takes some humility for many to get to those rehearsals with the younger guys – and to stand up on-stage on the last day of exams, with college applications still in progress and worries about GPAs. But this year, we happily observed a record number of older guys on the risers. Enthusiastic accolades go to Messrs. Alexis, Augustin, Clayton, Dulce, Espinal, Ertle, Fenelus, K. Jackson, Kadushin, Ohia, N. Rodriguez and Wright. Whether you realize it or not, you all aided Fr. Al in inspiring younger and future vocalists to become part of the Christmas Program tradition! Your leadership in this area of prayer and praise is invaluable. All of you can be sure that Mr. Vespole smiled last night at the sound of your voices.
And, finally, there still stands, through the scintillating additions and the wonderful old traditions of the Christmas Program, that timeless ‘man in black’ – Fr. Albert, O.S.B. Fr. Al continues as the ‘soul’ of music at St. Benedict’s and within Newark Abbey. Time cannot wither his energy as teacher or musician. We applaud him for almost five decades of monastic dedication to the greatest human art: the art of music. Whenever Fr. Albert’s arms are raised in the last crescendo of “King of Kings,” he is not only conducting the singers present before him; he is bringing forth, beyond time and space, the voices of every boy and young man who has sung in the St. Benedict’s Prep Annual Christmas Program. Ave! to Fr. Albert – and to all our ‘music men’ (and women!), students and teachers, past and present, who ring-in Christmas every year on MLK Boulevard in the heart of Newark, New Jersey!
--Story by Lorraine Elias, English/Religion Depts.
--Photos by Mike Scanlan