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Festival of Christmas 2017 Dazzles Sold-out Crowd

Festival of Christmas 2017 Dazzles Sold-out Crowd

Bethel’s 61st annual Festival of Christmas, “Love Has Come!,” ran November 30–December 2 and featured hundreds of student musicians.

When Bethel Orchestras Director and Adjunct Music Instructor Hannah Schendel interviewed for her position at Bethel, the conversation quickly moved from her qualifications and work history to Bethel’s signature event: Festival of Christmas.

“I have been excited by the prospect of collaborating with other ensembles in the music department and taking part in creating something that is such a beloved tradition at Bethel,” she says. “Words I’ve heard associated with Festival include, ‘magical,’ ‘glorifying,’ ‘memorable,’ ‘powerful,’ and ‘reverent.’”

As she took the stage for four performances November 30­–December 2 alongside hundreds of student performers, the stories and lore finally came to life for Schendel. Robed vocal ensembles took their places carrying their signature handheld candles—with real flame—and Benson Great Hall slowly filled with the sounds of Christmas and a Bethel tradition 61 years strong.

“I remember feeling a combination of nervousness and excitement. I was nervous because there's always that voice in the back of your head that likes to ask questions like, ‘Do I actually know my music? Did we have enough rehearsal time? What if I make a mistake and everyone notices?’” says Schendel. “Simultaneously, I was excited because I could feel the electrifying energy of so many people sitting out in the audience, and felt humbled that I could be a part of a tradition of sharing beautiful music that has such power to move people to feel closer to each other and closer to God.”

For this year’s production, Music Department Chair Jon Veenker wrote an arrangement of the production’s eponymous “Love Has Come!“ text by Ken Bible, featuring harps, flutes, and the Festival Women’s Choir. Gerard “Jerry” Sundberg ’73, a veteran of Bethel’s music department and world-renowned vocalist who recently returned to campus as a vocal instructor, was a featured soloist on “Fantasia on Christmas Carols” by Ralph Vaughn Williams, a piece based on traditional English carols.

This year’s Festival featured more than 220 performers, with 100 more students supporting the weekend’s events as ushers, traffic control personnel, robe-steamers, and servers at the traditional Swedish smorgasbord. The production featured two video screens—new this year—plus six side-wall projectors, 350 light fixtures, 2,000 feet of Christmas lights in Benson Great Hall alone, countless poinsettias, Christmas trees, and potted Norfolk pines scattered around campus.

If you missed this year’s production or wish to commemorate it leading up to Christmas, you can order a copy of this or previous recordings of Festival of Christmas.