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December 3, 2001

Festival kicks off Christmas season

By Stephanie McNicoll


For many Atlantans, the start of the Yuletide season begins with Emory’s annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Performed by the Chorus and Concert Choir, the program is based on the traditional Christmas service at King’s College Chapel in Cambridge, England.

This melding of scripture lessons read in conjunction with the performance of international carols has been an Atlanta tradition since 1935. This year’s event will be held in Glenn Auditori-um, Dec. 7–8 at 8:15 p.m., with an early performance at 5 p.m. on Dec. 8.

The local tradition of 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 Glenn Church upon its completion in 1931, and the current format of Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols (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. Ben-son, bishop of Truro. The local tradition is so strong that several families who have moved away from the Emory area reunite at the concert every year in the same spot
of the balcony, according to Eric Nelson, director of choral activities.

This year’s festival features the University Chorus of more than 150 singers, conducted by Mary Hoffman, with graduate student Jon Marc Rutherford as pianist and Timothy Albrecht as organist. In addition, Johnnetta Cole, retired Presidential Distinguished Professor of Anthropology, African American Studies and Women’s Studies, will be reading at the 5 p.m. performance on Dec. 8.

“The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols draws from the community traditional concert goers who look to be enriched by the comfort of familiar words and music,” Hoffman said. “I feel that by performing pieces like ‘Scarborough Carol,’ which combines the text of ‘Away in a Manger’ with the music of ‘Scarborough Fair,’ we can provide our audience with that familiarity that soothes them and brings them back to the center of their lives.”

Another crowd-pleaser this year is Cornelius’ “The Three Kings” to be sung by the men of the University Chorus. “I chose this piece because it shows the strength of our men’s chorus and honors Emory’s rich heritage of male a cappella groups,” Hoffman said.

An Emory alumna, Hoffman considers the opportunity to direct this year’s performance as “a great honor” and said she is “excited to see her fellow alumni return for the festival each year.”

General admission tickets are $10. To order or for more information, call 404-727--5050 or send e-mail to



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