The box office opened their windows, the tickets dwindled and the cold winter breeze whistled through Mulberry Street as the sell-out crowd flooded in to reserve their seats.
The instruments were tuned, the lights gleamed bright and musicians grabbed hold of their composure. With all eyes on the stage, the lights dimmed down, the performers released their butterflies in a final exhale and the conductors took command of their batons on center stage.
The spotlight was on and Christmas came early at Macon’s Grand Opera House as the Townsend School of Music presented their second-annual A Grand Mercer Christmas.
Held on Nov. 29, the event’s timing couldn’t have been better as the evening was the first in months that truly resembled the setting of Christmas night. With the chill sticking to cheeks and late-December music satisfying the ears in attendance, the night was a prelude to Mercer’s 2012 recital to be televised on PBS for Christmas of 2013.
The night featured the University’s plethora of talented musical groups such as: the 35 ladies of the Mercer Women’s Chamber Choir, the 25 artists of the McDuffie Center String Orchestra, the five members of the Mercer Faculty Brass Quintet, the 46 members of the nationally and internationally traveled Mercer Singers and the Middle Georgia up-and-coming group of 40 youngsters that structure the Mercer University Children’s Choir.
McDuffie Center String Orchestra Director, Amy Schwartz Moretti, conductors Richard Kosowski and Stanley Roberts, along with an array of additional contributors compiled an impressive ensemble of 19 pieces for the event.
“This was all made possible through the vision and design of Carolyn, Tom and Julie McAfee,” said the Associate Dean of the Townsend School of Music, A.L. Rich professor and conductor Stanley Roberts. “The McAfee’s are very interested in what is taking place here. That’s where all of this started. The Townsend School of Music is named in honor of Carolyn’s parents,” added Roberts.
Also the conductor of both the Women’s Choir and the Mercer Singers, Roberts went on to mention that playing in front of a packed theatre is always an exciting feeling for performers. The 1,000-seat venue was put to the test as hordes of eager enthusiasts witnessed the sights and sounds brought to them by the talented pool of Mercerian artists. The environment was especially vibrant for those performing under the lights.
“I’ve always enjoyed performing at concerts, but Christmas concerts are by far my favorite. Between the repertoire performed and the enthusiastic audience in attendance, I feel proud of what we accomplished,” said Mercer Singers alto Emily Garrott.
With a night that began and concluded with the audience and singers in sync, the program led off with the tranquil “O Come All Ye Faithful” and came to a close with the engaging “Hark the Herald Angels.”
Sprinkling in a few common favorites such as “Gaudete”, “A la nanita nana”, “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” and “Go Where I Send Thee” to name a few, the show presented a wide variety for all ages and interests to get the community into the holiday spirit.
When speaking of the talented group of performers, Roberts said, “Anyone can walk in and enjoy what we do. It is truly first class. Some of the guests we have had are literally world travelers. Venues charge 75 dollars to watch them perform and we offer it for free to Mercer students.”
As far as 2012’s much-anticipated production is concerned, the show will consist of a similar format as the performers will be put through a five-day course to meet their eventual goal of being broadcasted on PBS in the winter of 2013.
The process will consist of a dress rehearsal, recorded musical run-throughs, and a day of television recordings with no audience and two nights of live performances in front of sell-out crowds at The Grand.
Roberts compared their practices to that of a science student or an athlete. “What these students do is no different than a chemistry major in a lab or a basketball player on the court. We practice day in and day out and show you what we can do. People go to basketball games to be entertained,” he said.
Along with the performers from A Grand Mercer Christmas, the Townsend School of Music also features a variety of other fields such as percussions, flutes, pianos, opera, jazz and many more.
As the semester nears a close, Robert’s group next takes the stage with the Mercer Singers performing “A Festival of Nine Lessons & Carols” in Newton Chapel on Dec. 9-10.
Tickets are free with a valid Mercer ID. For more information about concerts, visit www.mercer.edu/music/calendar.