Festival of Lights Concerts Return to Mississippi College in Person Dec. 2-4
Since their inception at Mississippi College 35 years ago, the Festival of Lights concerts, joyous celebrations of the Christmas story in words and songs, have become a beloved tradition at the Christian University.
For the first time, Dr. Damion Womack, the new director of choral activities in MC’s Department of Music, will be leading the award-winning Mississippi College Singers as they perform during the concerts, scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday, Dec. 2-4, in historic Provine Chapel on the Clinton campus.
The former chair of the Department of Fine Arts at Huntingdon College is fully aware of the expectations that come with coordinating the distinctive blend of music and scripture readings that tells the story of Jesus’ birth. Yet, he is more than capable of bearing the pressure of expectations on his broad musical shoulders.
“I think it is great to have the opportunity to have such an important role in the 36th annual Festival of Lights,” said Womack, assistant professor of music at MC. “The MC Singers have had a longstanding reputation of choral music excellence and I am proud to be able to continue this tradition.”
While the tradition begun by Dr. James Richard Joiner, former chair of the Department of Music and Festival of Lights founder, will continue, the song selection may differ a bit from previous performances. Womack is tight-lipped about this year’s program – “I don’t want to give the selections away, so you will just have to come to the Festival of Lights and hear for yourself,” he teased – he does insist the concerts will remain faithful to the true meaning of the holiday season.
“In 2020, most of the music stopped – I mean, at a halt,” he said. “Many didn’t know when music would return, when live choral concerts would return.
“Since singing was so different in 2020, I decided to include a few recognizable Christmas anthems with a little twist, along with a few choral selections that may be new to our audience.”
Dr. Benjamin Williams, chair of the Department of Music, said the program will include scripture readings by MC faculty, staff, and members of the community interspersed among musical selections from the MC Singers. They will be accompanied by Dr. Robert Knupp, MC professor of music, on organ, and Tyler Kemp, MC instructor in music, on piano.
Vince Massimino, William D. and Jan Mounger, Chair and assistant concertmaster of the Mississippi Symphony Orchestra, will perform as a special guest violinist.
“On some level, although it’s really a concert, being in a church space, it’s almost like a worship service,” Williams said. “Especially when the lights are dimmed and the students carry candles and sing by candlelight.”
That “candlelight procession” traditionally begins and ends each concert as the MC Singers perform “Of the Father’s Love Begotten.”
Womack said the showcase of songs and scripture in the English tradition of Lessons and Carols established at King’s College in Cambridge is a fitting celebration of God’s greatest gift.
“I would like our audience to embrace the Christmas season and all that it has to offer: love, forgiveness, hope, and joy,” he said. “I would like for our attendees to understand, see, and hear how hard our students have worked to provide choral music of the highest quality we are able.
“Singing is back, and we are now to sing about the birth of Jesus, our Savior who came to save us all.”
Through the years, the MC Singers have entertained audiences at New York City’s famed Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center and have performed in concert halls throughout Europe and South Africa. According to Williams, followers of the choral group have been anticipating its return to live performances for some time.
“We’ve actually been getting calls for a little over a month now from alumni, previous music faculty, and people from the community anxious about the Festival of Lights being performed live in person again,” Williams said. “A lot of folks come back to campus for the performance each year.”
While he looks forward to directing his first Festival of Lights, Womack said he will be happiest when the spotlight shines on the MC Music students who have worked so hard to bring back the live performances.
“I may be the face that you will see during the Festival of Lights,” Womack said, “however, there are so many that have contributed to make this event possible. I am forever grateful to have the opportunity to share my gifts with such loving and caring colleagues.
“I hope to see you all as we celebrate the birth of our savior, Jesus Christ.”
General admission tickets cost $15 each, $10 for MC faculty, staff, and individuals 65 or older, and $5 for children and students of any school. To purchase tickets to the Festival of Lights, visit the MC Marketplace.
For more information about Department of Music events, call 601.925.3440. To stay up to date with MC Music, subscribe to the MC Music Events email list.