SEATTLE – More than 200 Catholic high school students will offer Advent hope through music during an online “Service of Lessons and Carols” December 18.
Because of pandemic restrictions, it became apparent the annual Catholic high school choir festival at Benaroya Hall wouldn’t take place in February 2021, according to Alison Seaton, chair of the Performing Arts Department at Forest Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bellevue.
So the choir directors from the archdiocese’s Catholic schools decided to use technology to bring their students’ voices together in song for a special Advent presentation.
“We all got pretty excited about the idea,” Seaton said, noting that it offers music students a chance to still come together and perform for the community.
Students have been busy recording their individual parts while accompanied by audio tracks and videos of the guest conductors from New York, Jim Papoulis and Francisco Núñez. The individual pieces have been mixed together to achieve the sound of a large choir.
Conductor Jim Papoulis has been meeting virtually with local high schools choirs in preparation for the Service of Lessons and Carols on December 18. He has spent about 30 hours mixing the students’ individual recordings into a group performance. Photo: Courtesy Jim Papoulis
“It’s kind of neat hearing it come together,” said Papoulis, co-founder of New York nonprofit Foundation for Small Voices and the guest conductor for last February’s 20th Catholic High School Choir Festival. “I’ve been bringing up all the tracks, lining them all up and figuring it all out.”
Archbishop Paul D. Etienne will preside at the service, which includes music, prayers and Scripture readings; the archbishop has already recorded his portion of the script, Seaton said.
At 7 p.m. December 18, the recorded service will be streamed on the Archdiocese of Seattle’s Facebook page, allowing students and their families near and far to participate in the service. (It also will be available for viewing later.)
Stephanie Norris, a senior at Kennedy Catholic High School in Burien, is excited about being able to watch the performance with her family, who have attended all her concerts since freshman year. And she’s looking forward to hearing the final product.
“We have really no clue to know what it’s going to sound like all together,” she said.
A different kind of concert
Preparing for the special service was a different experience, but one that helped students learn new skills.
“It’s highly technical work, and the whole world has been learning how to do this,” Seaton said.
Katherine Wijenaike-Bogle, a senior at Forest Ridge, found the recording process a chance to take responsibility for improving her knowledge of the music.
“Normally, when you’re in a choir, you get to lean on everyone else,” she said. “With the recordings, it has made everyone a better musician.”
“We can do multiple takes of things, because we’re all recorded separately,” Norris said. “It was very basic but also very difficult.”
Usually, Papoulis and Núñez, founder and artistic director for the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, would travel to Seattle to work with the choirs in person, especially on new compositions, before the annual choir festival.
“It’s really special to sing something for the composer and hear his story behind it,” Norris said.
Instead, Papoulis and Núñez have been meeting with the choirs virtually throughout the semester.
“We created these songs for them to sing together,” Núñez said of the arrangements.
One of the songs the students will perform is the conductors’ arrangement of “Silent Night.” With a five-part harmony, they added dissonant chords and other elements to change it up from the standard version.
Wijenaike-Bogle said the Forest Ridge choir traditionally sings “Silent Night” and “Hark, the Herald Angels Sing,” and both songs are part of the Advent service.
“Especially this year, it’s nice to have that sense of normalcy,” she said.
Núñez noted how so many young people are stuck at home, struggling with the anxiety and uncertainty of the world situation. By putting the music together, they can remember what it’s like being in an actual choir, he said, and it’s a way to let them know things will eventually be all right.
“That’s what I think the hope is about,” Núñez said.
Seaton praised Papoulis and Núñez for donating much of their time to the effort — Papoulis will spend about 30 hours just mixing the music.
“Their kindness and their expertise in sharing this with the kids of the archdiocese is way over and above the expense,” she said. “We could not even imagine doing this without them.”
“We are hoping that this gives a message of hope to folks during Advent — especially our kids, who miss singing so much,” Seaton added.
Join the Service of Lessons and Carols
Celebrate Advent hope through music shared by the archdiocese’s Catholic high students during the online “Service of Lessons and Carols” at 7 p.m. December 18.
The service will be streamed on the Archdiocese of Seattle Facebook page.
More about the conductors
Jim Papoulis is co-founder of New York nonprofit Foundation for Small Voices, which works to bring music to children from all walks of life. He has conducted orchestras throughout the world and collaborated with artists including Aretha Franklin, Shania Twain and Beyoncé. His music has been featured at the Beijing Olympics and the National September 11 Museum.
Francisco Núñez is the founder and artistic director for the Young People’s Chorus of New York City, whose goal is making composers aware of the child’s voice as an instrument in making music. He also conducts the University Glee Club of New York City and American Young Voices.