Baylor student musicians create ‘Countdown to Christmas’

  |  Source: Baylor University

From Dec. 1 to 24, Baylor School of Music will offer Baylor University, alumni and fans a special daily gift for the holidays. (Photo / Matthew Hagestuen)

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WACO—It was beginning to look a lot like no Christmas.

Because of COVID-19, the Baylor University School of Music had to cancel “A Baylor Christmas”—a nearly 50-year tradition that draws sellout crowds to hear nearly 500 musicians in Baylor Symphony Orchestra and Baylor combined choirs.

Gone, too, will be smaller ensembles who pop into campus buildings for brief concerts in December.

This has been a somber year, but “you can’t keep the spirit of Christmas down—and you can’t keep the spirit of our students down, either,” said Lynne Gackle, director of choral activities, professor of ensembles and chair in Baylor School of Music.

A scant six weeks ago, the School of Music put out a call for help—and got a resounding answer. Dozens of students and faculty submitted ideas for a host of pre-recorded performances—three to five minutes each—of click-and-listen vignettes for Baylor fans across the country.

‘Daily gift for the holidays’

The result is “Countdown to Christmas,” a musical mélange of sacred, traditional, jazzy and downright playful videos, including some original arrangements by students.

The Baylor School of Music has produced a “Countdown to Christmas” featuring online musical presentations beginning Dec. 1 and continuing through Christmas Eve. (Photo / Matthew Hagestuen)

They’re not talking about the 12 days of Christmas. They’re talking about 24.

“From Dec. 1 to 24, Baylor School of Music will offer Baylor University, alumni and fans a special daily gift for the holidays,” Gackle said.

While faculty also offered their talents, the School of Music opted to highlight students, selecting from their suggestions. Students scurried, some recording live while physical distancing, some doing their own recording, some composing their own arrangements and some even creating a few videos via Zoom with other musicians—all woven together behind the scenes by graduate conducting student Matthew Hagestuen and his colleague Josh Martin.

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“The students showed thought, creativity, ingenuity and motivation. Virtually no one else is doing anything quite like this,” said Gackle, president of the American Choral Directors Association. “This is such a unique concept.”

‘Music is God’s gift to us’

There will be a Spanish lullaby for the Baby Jesus. A handbells choir will perform “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” The four-member Flute Fleet will perform “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and a trio of marimbas will offer “Slightly Odd Ride”—a student-arranged take on “Sleigh Ride.”

Then there’s the quirky do-it-yourself video of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Student Jaewoo Lee made six recordings of himself playing individual trombone parts, then meshed them into a virtual trombone choir.

“It blew me away,” Gackle said.

The countdown will culminate with the hour-long “A Baylor Christmas 2019,” the televised premier of last year’s event, to air locally through KWTX-TV Waco/Bryan/College Station and nationally through other Gray Television affiliates on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25.

All the music will be hosted by Baylor’s website, with a link to the music landing page hosted on the School of Music website.

“The students were going to find a way to make music, no matter what happens,” Gackle said. “A lot of souls need healing. Music is God’s gift to us, and it heals the soul.”

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