By Kevin Kelly
Catholic Key Associate Editor
KANSAS CITY — Advent? What’s that?
Oh yeah. It’s that four-week liturgical season, falling somewhere between Black Friday and Santa Claus coming down the chimney on Christmas Eve, when we are supposed to prepare ourselves spiritually for the birth of Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
The Schola Cantorum will present a refresher course on Advent when it performs its fifth annual “Light to the Nations” lessons and carols at 7 p.m. Dec. 10 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, 11th and Broadway in downtown Kansas City.
The one-hour event — part concert, part liturgical service, and entirely spiritually fitting for the specific season of Advent — is free and open to the public. All the public and not only Catholics, said Dr. Mario Pearson, the cathedral’s director of music and liturgy.
Pearson said the 14-voice Schola Cantorum is his professional-level choir, made up of degreed musical professionals who earn their livings performing, directing and teaching music.
If you are expecting shopping mall Christmas carols, forget it.
The music, poetry and Scripture readings will focus like a laser beam on the anticipation of the birth of the Savior, Pearson said. “Rudolf, the Red-Nosed Reindeer” need not apply.
“The focus of the Schola is on early church music,” Pearson said. “They sing music that celebrates all the music traditions of the church.”
Pearson said that the annual Advent “Light to the Nations” event was one of the first events he started when he came to the cathedral in 2006. The first “Light to the Nations” was performed in 2007, and has been celebrated every year since on the second Saturday of December, precisely to remind Christians of the rich spiritual opportunities that the season of Advent offers.
“I grew up in South Africa,” he said. “We didn’t decorate for Christmas until Christmas Eve. Then we celebrated the 12 days of Christmas after we prepared ourselves during Advent.”
Not so in American culture, he said.
“Everybody in this country gets caught up in the rush and the consumerism,” Pearson said. “It’s all about stuff, and that’s so unfortunate. Stuff is not going to get you into heaven. It’s how we live life and express our faith that will get us into heaven.”
“Light to the Nations” is Pearson’s air brakes applied to the runaway freight train called “The Holiday Season,” filled with shopping, parties, more shopping and more parties.
“Advent challenges us to slow down, to prepare, to stay awake, to be ready, to be hope for a world longing for the peace that the Christ child born into poverty offers us,” he said.
And it will take just about an hour.
“You can still get to your parties by 8:30,” he said.
The program is ambitious, centered around prayers for the yearning anticipation of the arrival of the incarnate Jesus.
Schola Cantorum will sing in Latin, French, and English with selections ranging from the ancient to the modern.
The choir will begin with “Rorate Caeli” from the Book of Isaiah, in Latin: “Drop down dew, ye heavens, from above and let the clouds rain the just. Let the earth be opened and send forth a Savior.”
Two hymns to the Virgin Mary will be sung, 20th Century composer Pierre Villette’s “Hymn a la Vierge” in French, and contemporary Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo’s “Tota Pulchra Es” in Latin.
There will be a touch of Shakespeare in Joseph Rutter’s treatment of “Blow Thou Wintery Wind” from the comedy “As You Like It,” as well as Joseph Jennings’ musical arrangement of the Christina Rossetti poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter.”
Interspersed among the choral performances will be Scripture from Isaiah, readings of the poetry of Joseph Breighner and Madeline L’Engle, and commentary by the members of Schola Cantorum.
And those planning on attending should also bring their voices. The congregation will be invited to sing with the choir such selections as “On Jordan’s Bank,” “Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending,” and “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns.”
“We don’t like to have a passive audience, so tune up your voice and come sing with us,” Pearson said.
“This is music that leads us to that great hearald of Christmas,” he said. “My goal as a liturgist and a musician is to swim upstream and go against the grain. This event is counter-cultural.”
And by all means, bring the children, he said.
“This is a great opportunity to impress on our children what this season really is,” Pearson said.
And there will be one more “performer” — the cathedral itself, decked out in its Advent glory, and becoming renowned as one of the city’s premier venues for choral music.
“Cathedrals represent so many things. It is the seat of the bishop, the mother church of the diocese, the spiritual home to the parish and a haven and beacon of hope for travelers,” Pearson said.
“When the Schola sings at the cathedral, they sound like 50 voices,” he said.