KANSAS CITY — The Cathedral’s professional-level choir has a sure cure for a culture that has forgotten Advent and thinks “Frosty the Snowman” is Christmas music.
For the seventh year in a row, “Advent Lessons and Carols” will offer both a breather from the frantic “holiday” season, as well as an opportunity to get back to the true meaning of Advent — a time for reflection, preparation and prayer.
Schola Cantorum will do that at 7 p.m. Dec. 13 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Kansas City with an ear feast of great, spiritual music spanning centuries.
And to be completely counter-cultural in this free spending season, the concert is free, although donations will be accepted.
The brainchild of Cathedral music director Dr. Mario Pearson, Advent Lessons and Carols was first performed in 2008 as Pearson’s way of putting Advent back into Advent.
A native of South Africa, Pearson noted that the U.S. culture seems to jump directly from the Thanksgiving dinner table to holiday shopping with no time to pause to reflect on the meaning of the coming of the Savior.
Each year, Pearson personally selects from a rich and varied — and seldom heard — deposit of Advent hymns and carols that reflect not only the beauty of the longing for the humble birth of Jesus, but also the universality and diversity of sacred music from a variety of cultures. And each year, the concert is different.
This year, there will be a Kansas City connection. One of the selections will be the hymn “Mary Had a Baby” coming from the African-American tradition, and written by William Dawson, who earned his first degree in music and composition at the Horner Institute of Fine Arts which would eventually evolve, through mergers, into the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music.
Dawson briefly taught in Kansas City public schools, before moving on to direct the Tuskegee Institute Choir to international acclaim.
Also to be heard from the African-American tradition will be Rosephanye Dunn Powell’s, “The Word of God,” based on the very first words of John’s Gospel, and Andre Thomas’s arrangement of the spiritual, “Keep your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.”
This year’s concert will carry a distinct theme honoring Mary, the mother of Jesus, beginning with the opening number, “Involata, integra et casta es Maria” a 16th Century Gregorian Chant attributed to Josquin des Prez.
Other Advent hymns honoring Mary will be Anton Bruckner’s Virga Jesse, written in 1885 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Diocese of Linz, Austria, and Hans Leo Hassler’s 16th Century “Dixit Maria,” his hymn honoring the surrender of Mary to God’s will to bring a Savior into the world.
Other selections will note the long, dark night that preceded the light of the birth.
Among them will be Norwegian-born composer Fredrick Melius Christiansen’s “Lost in the Night,” and the work of today’s Guy Forbes, “O Nata Lux” (Born of Light) which urges prayers and longing to join the Body of Christ.
The concert will also feature the only published work by Boris Ord, legendary conductor and arranger of the King’s College Choir of Cambridge, England, as he set to music the ancient, unattributed English epic poem telling of the fall of humankind, “Adam Lay Ybounden.”
Other selections will include modern day Latvian composer Eriks Esenvalds, “O Salutaris Hostia;” modern day American Morten Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium,” and 16th Century Spanish composer Cristobal de Morales’ “Puer Natus Est.”
The concert, as always, will not be the “Advent Lessons and Carols” without audience participation. Schola Cantorum will lead the congregation in three familiar hymns — Charles Wesley’s “Come O Long Expected Jesus,” St. Ambrose’s “Savior of the Nations Come,” and John Brownlie’s “The King Shall Come When Morning Dawns.”