It can be hard to get into the Christmas spirit in California. Hearing songs like “White Christmas,” “Let it Snow, Let it Snow, Let it Snow,” and “Walking in a Winter Wonderland” coming out of tiny grocery store speakers on a sunny December day is a taunting reminder of a world where Christmas brings snow and warm fireplaces instead of dead grass and clear skies.
Despite the lack of snow, the Master’s University Chorale, University Singers, and orchestra bring the Christmas spirit to Southern California every time they put on the annual Christmas Concert. The concert is a celebration of Christ’s birth with nearly two hours of music and hand-built sets depicting various scenes associated with the season. This Christmas Concert, the 35th since 1985, is the first time it has been put on at Grace Community Church in Sun Valley. The only other time the Christmas Concert has not been at the MacArthur Center on campus was when it was under renovation, and the concert was held at the Performing Arts Center at College of the Canyons.
Renovating the MacArthur Center to accommodate the concerts was a huge effort in years past. Using Grace Community Church made the production process easier.
“It takes thousands of dollars,” said Dr. Paul Plew, who has been the chair of the music department at Masters since 1979 and conducted last the Christmas Concert. “It was $25,000 to $30,000 just to bring sound and lights in to the gym, and that’s at pretty much a 60% discount. Also athletics loses the gym. They get to use the gym now, and we can use the gym for chapel.”
Having the Christmas Concert at Grace Community allows more people to see it despite the Christmas Concert only going for one weekend instead of two like it has in past years.
“It’s basically the whole week that gobbles up the students, and we have pushing a third of the student body,” Plew said. “We do two concerts on Saturday, and then we do Sunday morning two services at Grace Community Church. These are strategic weeks for a student. It doesn’t take as much time.”
Also, the production team’s workload was much less because of the switch.
“This year, it’s a lot easier because we don’t have to set up all the lighting,” sophomore music major Matthew Noel, who is on the production team that put on the concert, said. “We still have to build the scenes. We’re so thankful for Grace Community.”
Despite set-up for the concert being easier than it was at the gym, many hours of work are still put into building the sets and rehearsing the concert. The Christmas Concert was coordinated during a six-hour dress rehearsal the Wednesday before the concert.
“We were here late almost every night this week after classes,” Josh Hilton, a sophomore music major who is part of chorale and the production team, said.
The process takes a lot of backstage work and coordination.
“You will see people coming down the aisles, going to the loft, doing ‘Twelve Days of Christmas,’” Plew said. “Well, how do they know what to do? Well, somebody is backstage telling them.”
The switch to Grace Community proved to be popular with many students.
“I do think I like the venue more here,” Caleb Magee, a sophomore computer science major, said after the concert. “There is the disadvantage of having to drive here as compared to just walking down, but you have the ability to set up the scenes outside. I think it’s cooler to be able to walk outside rather than inside a gym.”
Some aspects of having the concert at the gym were missed this year.
“There is definitely a charm to having it in a gym, but it also is a gym, so it’s not as professional an environment,” freshman music major Arianna Sonnenburg who sang in the concert with chorale, said. “I think moving here gives it a lot more of an intentional feel, but you do lose the charm of the handmade gym venue.”
The location of future Christmas Concerts is something that has not yet been decided.
“Grace Community is just opening their arms to us,” Plew said. “They’re so gracious. So, are we going to do this all the time down there? Well, the tale is yet to be told.”