Dec 12, 2013

St. Cecilia’s to present 17th annual Festival of Carols Dec. 15



Story and photos by Rebecca Drake

WILBRAHAM -- They've heard it all before. And that's the point.

“People are drawn to the church to hear the traditional Christmas carols that celebrate the birth of Jesus,” said Father Joseph M. Soranno, pastor of St. Cecilia Parish, here.

Speaking about the parish's 17th annual Festival of Carols, to be presented this year on Sunday, Dec. 15 at 7 p.m. in the church, Father Soranno said he is not surprised that parishioners and local residents return year after year to the concert, which features St. Cecilia’s combined youth and adult choirs.

“We're restricted in our present world from singing traditional Christmas carols,” he said, adding that the secular holiday music, often played 24 hours a day on commercial radio stations, can “dull the senses” and overshadows the Christian significance of the season.

“We provide a place and an opportunity for people to come to hear, and to sing, the songs of our faith that celebrate the birth of our savior,” said Father Soranno. And, he said, many who are timid about singing in church during Mass, are enthusiastic about joining in the congregational carols during the concert.

“People who normally won't sing in church, will sing the carols,” he said. “They grew up with them and the songs recall their childhood and memories of special events.”

The parish’s music director, Todd Rovelli (pictured at right), who has been directing the Festival of Carols since 1997, said he is both professionally and personally inspired by the Christmas concert each year.

“As a performer and music minister, I feed off the energy of the audience/congregation,” Rovelli said. “There is nothing more inspiring than a ‘congregational chorus,’ consisting of several hundred people belting out a heartfelt rendition of ‘O Come All Ye Faithful.’ 

“Though many of the songs are repeated year after year,” he said, “they continue to have special meaning for me personally.” 

 In addition to the familiar carols, the program includes religious songs from various cultures and genres, including traditional spirituals such as “Behold That Star” and the West Indies carol, “Calypso Lullaby.”

“Though all of the music is sacred, there really is something for everyone,” said Rovelli. “A typical program includes everything from contemporary gospel to traditional classical selections. I think people who attend the program truly are filled with the spirit of the season.”

Rovelli also noted there will be some new songs in the Dec. 15 program. “This year’s concert will include several new pieces, including a rockin' contemporary arrangement of the traditional spiritual, ‘Child of God,’ and a new musical setting of the classic Christina Rossetti poem, ‘In the Bleak Midwinter,’ by Philip Stopford,” he said.

And he is always happy to include songs that are asked for by parishioners and other fans of the Festival of Carols, he said. One of the most requested songs is Jack Schrader’s choral setting of “Mary Did You Know?” This song, with words and music by Mark Lowry and Buddy Greene, has been recorded by popular, Christian and country artists, including Helen Cornelius, Kathy Mattea, Trisha Yearwood and, recently, Kenny Rogers and Wynonna Judd.

“‘Mary Did You Know?’ and ‘O Holy Night,’ both personal favorites of mine, are two songs that are always requested,” Rovelli said. “The combination of beautiful music and a meaningful text never fails to move the listener and performer alike.”

All of the music in this year’s program, from new to familiar, will be enhanced by the recent upgrades to the sound system and renovation of the choir area at St. Cecilia’s. As workers uncovered and moved the organ console and sound technicians installed new hanging microphones on a recent Friday morning, Father Soranno reflected on the power of the music to bring people of all ages together in celebration of the sacred side of the season.

“It connects the present and the past,” he said. “And all generations can join together and sing the songs of our faith.”  

The Festival of Carols is free of charge and will be followed by refreshments in the parish center adjacent to the church, which is located at 42 Main St., Wilbraham.