The acclaimed Atlanta Boy Choir is celebrating its 50th anniversary of presenting musical excellence to the world and one of its most honored traditions consists of visiting the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers for its annual Christmas concert.
"There are a lot of exciting things going on," said David White, artistic director and conductor of the Boy Choir. "I'm really glad that our relationship has continued with the monastery because out of the 40 or 50 performances we give each year, the monastery concert is one of my favorites and it's one of the boys' favorites. It's just a wonderful place to sing."
For the 27th year, the Boy Choir will visit the monastery for a 6:30 p.m. concert on Saturday, Dec. 8. This year's performance figures to be a bit different than in recent years as several of the brothers from the monastery will accompany the 35-voice choir with a presentation of the "Nine Lessons and Carols," which was first held on Christmas Eve in 1918 at King's College in Cambridge, England.
"The first half of the program will be the Festival of Lessons and Carols, which is reminiscent of the event held in Cambridge," said White, who has led the Boy Choir for the last seven years, succeeding founder and former conductor Fletcher Wolfe. "Scripture passages dealing with Advent and the Christmas season are read and then the choir responds to each reading with a carol that relates to the text."
Among the better known pieces to be sung by the Boy Choir are "Once in Royal David's City," "Away in a Manger," "O Come, All Ye Faithful" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing."
The monastery's Brother Callistus Crinchlow said the Lessons and Carols have been performed in the chapel before, but "it was way back in the past - before my time."
"I'm not sure how it will all play out," quipped Callistus. "The monks will recite the prayers they give us and then the choir will sing the response. It's similar to what we do with our own liturgy in Vespers. But instead of us singing, we'll be reciting passages."
Callistus, who said he would be among the readers, said he has recruited five of the Monastery's "better readers" to participate in the program.
"We'll double up on a few of them, if necessary," he said.
White said it was his idea to combine the Boy Choir with the monks because "it was something I thought might be fun to do."
"I asked the monks and they said, "Sure,'" he said.
The second half of the concert will showcase the Boy Choir performing favored Christmas and holiday songs, including Rockdale County's largest "12 Days of Christmas" sing-along.
"It will be our traditional Christmas concert," said White. "We'll sing a lot of traditional songs and a few a few audience sing-alongs and we'll also sing a couple of Russian sacred pieces."
The monastery recital is just one of more than a dozen appearances the Boy Choir - which recorded its album "There Will be Joy" at the monastery several years ago - will be making during the holiday season.
Besides being on the concert series of several metro Atlanta churches, the ensemble will sing at Gov. Sonny Perdue's annual Christmas Lighting Ceremony at the State Capital. Also on the docket is the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra's "A Child's Holiday Concert" along with the Lee Harper Dancers on Dec. 9 and Dec. 16 at Symphony Hall; and "Christmas with the Atlanta Boy Choir," which will feature all five Boy Choir ensembles on Dec. 14 and 15.
The Boy Choir's 2007 highlights included concerts in Wyoming and Utah; a performance at the opening of the Cobb Energy Performing Arts Center in September and another concert at the venue a month later; and a performance witnessed by First Lady Laura Bush at the Atlanta Hyatt when Bush was in town serving as the keynote speaker for the Community in Schools Luncheon.
White said the Boy Choir's 50th anniversary celebration will continue into 2008 when the group visits the Ukraine and Russia for a series of concerts.
But as White has said many times before, no matter where the Boy Choir wanders, it feels very much at home in Conyers.
"We keep coming back to the monastery largely because of the atmosphere," he said. "It's such a remarkably beautiful facility with incredibly wonderful acoustics. And I like that we can sing in the center of the room with the audience on both sides of us. In terms of the sound, there's not a bad spot in the room. When the choir can hear itself, it makes a huge difference."
A portion of the proceeds from the concert will go to the Monastery Food Bank Outreach. Tickets for the concert (which is generally a sellout) are $25 for adults and $12 for children age 15 and under, and can be obtained by calling 770-929-3488 or by visiting www.trappist.net/tickets. For more information, call 678 964-2237.
SideBar: If You Go
What: Atlanta Boy Choir annual Christmas concert
When: Saturday, Dec. 8 at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Monastery of the Holy Spirit, 2625 Hwy. 212 in Conyers
Cost: Tickets are $25 for adults and $12 for children 15 and under and can be obtained by calling 770-929-3488 or visiting www.trappist.net/tickets. For more information, call 678 964-2237.