If you heard rapturous applause emanating from Trinity Chapel this weekend, you can thank “Christmas on the Heights.” From December 2-4, the University Chorale and the Boston College Symphony Orchestra (BCSO) held their winter concert, an event that would have been worth much more than the ten-dollar admission price. John Finney conducted a program of traditional carols, from “O Holy Night” to a beautiful setting of the “Ave Maria.” The songs were listed in print alongside their national origins; this made it especially evident how the hymns wove together praises from countries across the world.
As the musicians performed, Trinity Chapel’s enormous crucifix loomed over them with outstretched arms—as if the group had come to leave their music as offerings at the foot of the cross. Finney began the program by inviting the listeners to sing along to the most well-known carols. The concert then commenced with the larger-than-life notes of “Joy to the World,” with such enthusiasm that even the terrible singers in the audience felt obliged to join them.
The group had enough talent to make warm, familiar lyrics seem like a profound reality glimpsed for the first time. There were moments in “Silent Night” when the listeners felt like it truly was the “dawn of redeeming grace.” Art that makes you think this way – whether it’s music, painting, or poetry – is art that is achieving its highest purpose. In his 1999 “Letter to Artists,” Pope St. John Paul II describes the happiest artist as “sensing in [his or her work] some echo of the mystery of creation, which God…has wished in some way to associate [with him or her].”
And what a beautiful mystery the Chorale and the BCSO participated in this weekend. In this single chapel, they managed to draw from all the corners of the world, incorporating hymns from Burgundy, England, Germany, and Ukraine, among others. The more recent carols have known composers; other melodies are so old that the names of their creators have been lost to time. Conductor Finney invited the audience to stand for “O Come, All Ye Faithful”—a hymn which emphasized, in a special way, the far-reaching mystery of the Incarnation.
In his “Letter,” John Paul II goes on to describe the history of art as “not only a story of works produced but also a story of men and women.” This is a reminder that art, regardless of its popularity, is meant to be personal and intimate. What a wonder it is that a song like “We Three Kings of Orient Are,” which has been sung at thousands of productions, can still be individualized. With three senior soloists taking on the roles of the Three Kings, there couldn’t have been a better reminder that beauty is accessible both to the masses and to the single soul.
On this note, freshman Chorale member Marissa Caraballos enjoyed the inclusion of the audience in the weekend’s concert.
“It’s one thing for an audience to sit and watch you,” she said, “but when they sing along, it’s a completely different connection.”
For each audience member, that connection would be unique, just as the carols themselves have different meanings for each listener. Although not every audience member was a devout Christian, and not all of them entertained the same ideas of beauty. But they were able to take part in the same celebration since, as John Paul II said, “for everyone, believers or not, the works of art inspired by Scripture remain a reflection of the unfathomable mystery which engulfs and inhabits the world.”
The Boston College community is indebted to the University Chorale and BCSO for bringing a part of this mystery to the campus. Beyond exam grades, meal plans, and school rankings, these undercurrents of beauty are what establish the college as a place of reflection.
Here’s to an Advent of meaningful contemplation and a Christmas of new, vibrant, and long-awaited joy!