30th Annual Epiphany Concert Counterculturally Celebrates Christmas

By Sara Kraft

On the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6, the 30th annual A Cathedral Concert by Candlelight was held at Cathedral of St. Joseph. The concert features organ music and is the last chance to see the full Christmas decorations at the Cathedral. (Sarah Kraft/Key photo)

ST. JOSPEH, Mo. – One of St. Joseph’s most beautiful Christmas concerts can be heard at the Cathedral of St. Joseph on the Feast of the Epiphany. Thomas Smith, Music Director Emeritus of the Cathedral of St. Joseph, has offered ‘A Cathedral Concert by Candlelight’ every January 6 for the past 30 years.“It was the idea of Father Thomas Hawkins, who was the pastor (of Cathedral of St. Joseph) at the time,” explained Smith. “Everyone does Christmas programs during Advent. He thought, ‘Let’s be countercultural and do something at the end of the Christmas season.’ And it took off, so we’ve been doing it ever since.”

“Shopping displays go up in Advent (or before) and go down the day after Christmas,” said Fr. Stephen Hansen, current Pastor of Cathedral of St. Joseph. “This concert is one way to help us appreciate the whole season we are living within the church and not just the shopping season.”

Thomas Smith is no stranger to the organ, nor to the Cathedral of St. Joseph. He has been playing the organ for 60 years and accompanying at Cathedral of St. Joseph for 41 years. His music teacher at St. Francis Xavier in Kansas City started an organ training program when Smith was in sixth grade, and he was one of several piano students encouraged to begin. Soon afterwards, he began playing for school Masses and it grew from there.

“I kind of slid into music as a career,” Smith said. After grade school, he took organ lessons all throughout high school into college. In high school, he began to be paid for Masses, and his part-time job in college was an organist.

In 1978, Smith came to Cathedral of St. Joseph to be a full-time musician and teacher for Cathedral Catholic School. In 1986, his position became full-time music and liturgy for Cathedral of St. Joseph. In 2016, he retired from his full-time position but still is very active at Cathedral of St. Joseph. Most weekends, he accompanies for at least one Mass at the Cathedral of St. Joseph. He also plays for weddings and funerals occasionally, and fills in at other parishes in St. Joseph as needed.

Over the years, the concert has made some changes. The instrumental concert originally started in the evening. The concert eventually was changed to 4 pm due to the unpredictable winter weather and the fact that many senior citizens prefer to drive in the daylight.

Additionally, each year the music selection changes a bit. Each year, the concert includes a mixture of Christmas carols and familiar pieces of music. However, Smith also seeks to expose them to some of the great works from the classical period.

“I try to include something new every year and the rest are a few favorites I recycle throughout the years based on the Epiphany theme,” said Smith. For example, the piece ‘March of the Magi’ by F. Flaxington Harker has a march tempo. Smith said, “To me it evokes the sound of wise men crossing the desert. People really like it, so it’s been a ‘next year, and next year, and next year’ piece for a while.”

“I have come to the concert for a number of years and have always enjoyed the spirit and organ music,” said Barbara Hoffman, who attended the concert. “I liked the ‘Christmas Meditation’ piece. The carols are all familiar. They are telling the story of Christmas through them.”

“This concert is the last chance to see the full Christmas decorations at the Cathedral and enjoy the quiet beauty of Christmas,” Smith said.

This year’s concert ended with a standing ovation. “I have definitely been blessed. I consider this a vocation, which God has validated over and over,” said Smith. “I have been given the gift of music and I am glad of the opportunity to give it back to God and the community.”


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October 30, 2020
The Diocese of Kansas City ~ St. Joseph