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November 27, 2000

Concert kicks off holiday season

By Deb Hammacher

For many Atlantans, the start of the Yuletide season begins with Emory’s annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, scheduled this year for Dec. 1–2 in Glenn Auditorium.

Performed by the University Chorus, the program is based on the traditional Christmas service at King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England. This magical melding of scripture lessons read in conjunction with the performance of international carols has been an Atlanta tradition since 1935.

The local tradition of the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols grew out of Christmas concerts first performed at Atlanta’s First Presbyterian Church in 1925. The annual event moved to the newly built Glenn Memorial Church in 1931, and the current festival format, adopted in 1935, has met widespread popular and critical acclaim.

The festival is filled with traditions such as the opening candlelight procession of the choir singing “Once in Royal David’s City” and the closing singing of “Silent Night.” The service was developed in 1880 by E.W. Benson, bishop of Truro. The local tradition is so strong that several families who moved away from the area reunite at the concert every year in the same spot of the balcony, according to Eric Nelson, director of choral activities at Emory.

This year’s festival features probably the largest University Chorus ever, with more than 200 singers, and a substantial musical accompaniment.

This year’s instrumentation includes piano, organ, eight-part brass choir and two percussionists. Emory faculty member Deborah Thoreson will play piano, while alumnus Brad Hughley is the organist. The Concert Choir is 45 singers strong this year.

“The University Chorus has grown from 108 singers when I arrived at Emory four years ago, so finding enough robes is proving to be a challenge this year,” Nelson joked.

The featured choral work is Rutter’s “Gloria.”

“Two movements were done last year and were so well-received that I decided to do the whole thing this year,” Nelson said. Another crowd-pleaser this year is Biebl’s “Ave Maria” to be sung by the men of the Concert Choir. “We’re doing the Biebl piece in homage to the Emory Glee Club of years past,” Nelson said.

The former men’s chorus was merged into the University Chorus along with the Emory Chorale about 10 years ago, according to Nelson. Another new selection in the chorus’ repertoire for the festival is Nelson’s own arrangement of the French traditional carol, “Shepherds, What is This Lovely Fragrance.”

Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols will have three performances: Dec. 1 at 8:15 p.m., and Dec. 2 at 5 p.m. and 8:15 p.m. Admission is $10.

For tickets or more information, call 404-727-5050 or send e-mail to


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