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Legacy Family Sings Together at 60th Festival of Christmas

Bethel University Festival of Christmas 2016

As Scott Jamison ’90 took the stage for a unique fifth opportunity to sing in Festival of Christmas, his head flooded with memories of watching the processional from his usual seat in the audience. Year after year, Jamison has been transported by the melodic, candlelit entrance of robed Bethel vocalists taking their places in Benson Great Hall. This year, standing onstage in the center of the top row, the view was even more breathtaking.

Jamison was one of over 20 alumni choir members who joined Bethel student musicians to perform for thousands of guests at the 60th Festival of Christmas—“Tidings of Great Joy!”—on December 1–3. For some alumni, the event was an opportunity to reconnect with friends and remember a favorite Bethel tradition. For Jamison, it was a chance to create a new memory.

2016 marked Jamison’s 31st Festival, but he can still recall details from the 1985 concert that was his first. Back then, Jamison was a senior in high school, Bethel was still “Bethel College,” and the school held Festival of Christmas off campus in the sanctuary of Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in New Brighton. He’s been to every Festival of Christmas since. “It’s been a blessed series of performances,” Jamison says.

Among Jamison’s most memorable concerts were the ones he participated in as a student, with his junior year Festival (1988) being his favorite. “We sang Chesnokov’s ‘Salvation is Created,’” he recalls. “‘Salvation’ is a moving piece, no matter what your religious beliefs are. But when you believe the gospel truths made possible by the sacrificial gift of the incarnation, it is an excellent work to sing with so many other Christian voices.”

His sophomore performance created another special memory. “I stood on the risers directly behind a very cute young lady—a freshman soprano…[who] had caught my eye in the first week of rehearsals,” he says. He and the “young lady” would reconnect after graduation—for the 1993 Festival, which was held in the gym because Benson Great Hall was newly under construction. “Somehow I convinced her to go to Festival with me.” Three months later, Jamison arranged a private tour of the still-under-construction Great Hall. “I surprised her by proposing at the front of the center balcony (which had no seats yet) while we were both wearing hardhats,” he says. “Debbie and I have been together at every Festival, now always in the Great Hall, since then.”  

Throughout the years, Jamison and his now-wife Debbie Jamison ’91 have gotten involved with Festival whenever possible. In 2008 their sons Carl ’19 (then 10), Daniel, and Barrett participated in Festival as part of a children’s choir, and in 2013 their children Adelyn and Erik did the same. This year, both alums had the opportunity to take the stage again, this time joined by their son Carl and Jamison’s mother Judy Jamison Carlsen ’62. It was an unforgettable experience for their family.

“I got to sit behind Carl, and there were two or three songs where he was singing and I wasn’t…and it was fun to just watch him, and watch as a part of this good choir that I’ve enjoyed listening to for all these years. Those were moving moments for me,” says Jamison. Matriarch Judy Jamison Carlsen—who first performed in the third-ever Festival—notes how, for her, the whole weekend was full of happiness. “It’s just great to sing with family,” she says.

This year’s Festival performance certainly contributed to the warm feelings. Titled “Tidings of Great Joy!,” the program sought to express the joy that Jesus brought as a baby, and the joy that His eternal life brings believers today. From the angel pictured on the program cover—reminding the audience of the messenger who brought “good tidings of great joy” (Luke 2:10) to the mother of God—to the musical score, which featured traditional songs like “Ding, Dong! Merrily on High” and more culturally diverse pieces like the African song “Noel,” the 60th Festival of Christmas radiated joyful praise and “Gloria,” to God.

“I think a lot of it came from, honestly, the state of what we’re living right now,” says Associate Professor of Music and Director of Choral Activities Gene Peterson. “Through the [presidential] campaign and everything I just felt like…we as Christ followers [still] have great joy because of Jesus—because He came as an infant and then lived that perfect life. So [this Festival] is a celebration of hope that has come.”

Nearly 300 students from the Bethel Choir, Women’s Chorale, Festival Choir, Wind Symphony, Festival Orchestra, and Handbell Ensemble led packed audiences in celebration and worship. The second to final song—“Behold Our God”—was an audience favorite, and many enthusiastically joined in singing together, “Behold our God, seated on His throne. Come, let us adore Him. Behold our King, nothing can compare; Come, let us adore Him!” 

Information about next year’s 61st annual Festival of Christmas—including program dates and opportunities to get involved—will be available this spring. You can purchase a CD recording of “Tidings of Great Joy!” or past performances online.

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