ETHAN SHAWGO, TRUMPET GUEST WRITER
This year marked the 75th anniversary of Wartburg College’s annual holiday event, Christmas with Wartburg – and the return to in-person performances.
COVID-19 interrupted the CWW’s tradition. Last year’s performance was held earlier in the fall. It was recorded and livestreamed for a music cd and online video that was premiered in place of a performance. ensembles performed individually in the Wartburg Chapel for no audience but cameras and microphones.
“Let All Creation Sing” – face-masked-face-to-face-masked-face – had four performances Dec. 3-5.
“We get to sing with humans, who have been times only been on a screen, face to face or standing next to us and to have that creative process come to life, with a theme that’s so meaningful, is really precious,” Dr. Nicki Tolliver, director of the Castle Singers and St. Elizabeth Chorale, said ahead of the weekend’s events.
The program featured the talents of about 400 students from the Wartburg Choir, Castle Singers, and Wind Ensemble and the Ritterchor, St. Elizabeth Chorale, Kammerstreicher, Kantorei and Handbell Choir.
The first Christmas with Wartburg was performed in 1947 by the music department. It has been a Wartburg signature ever since.
This year the ensembles returned to Neumann Auditorium for Waverly performances and a central Iowa location at Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines.
COVID-19 protocol and safety are still a priority for the ensembles as they practice and perform close together. Masks were required for both performers and audience members as any positive cases in the ensembles could bench critical performers. Members of the audience, also wearing masks, were also invited stand and sing with the ensemble during some songs.
The Orchestra sat on the stage behind the choirs, which sat in chairs on risers massed in the center. The handbell choir, piano and soloists take the stage in front of the massed choir with audience members only some 8-10 feet away.
The ensemble conducted at least 15 mass rehearsals before they took a live stage in Des Moines.
Each year CWW is accompanied by a themed phrase and a mural to match. The mural is designed by an artist and usually features biblical scenes and symbolism related to the theme. This year’s theme is “Let All Creation Sing.”
“This is the story of hope, and forgiveness and happiness and life, and we put that above everything else that we’re doing,” fifth-year music student Ethan Peter said. He is a member of The Wartburg Choir and Castle Singers.
The mural is used most year during the show using off-stage lighting effects to highlight and lowlight certain areas that correspond to the piece being performed. Vibrant colors and fog machines create an immersive atmosphere for the audience. Sometimes ensemble members will take to the isles and sing amongst the live audience for a truly surround sound environment.
There is also a squirrel hidden in the mural, a nod to the campus squirrels, for audience members to spot.
This is Dr. Lee Nelson’s seventh year conducting Christmas with Wartburg. He takes a hands-on approach in planning and preparing the event. Other conductors and performers this year included Dr. Karen Black, Tolliver, Dr. Craig Hancock, and Dr. Rebecca Nederhiser. This is the also the last CWW for Hancock, who is retiring at the end of the academic year. Hancock’s advice for performers and spectators alike was “to come with an open heart and get ready to be washed in the spirit of the season.”
Performances were held in Wartburg’s Neumann Auditorium on Dec. 4th at 3:00 and 7:30 pm and Dec. 5 at 3 pm. On Dec. 3, there was a performance in West Des Moines.