by Marilyn Gore
Christmas on the Boulevard has become a St. John the Divine tradition, eagerly anticipated by both our church family and the surrounding community. Prior to its launch, our seasonal musical offering was a 30-minute choral prelude to the evening Christmas Eve services by the SJD Chorale with brass and timpani. In 2016, the church had a vision for creating an invitational opportunity with a gala Christmas concert for the community.
"We thought it would be more advantageous for us to put all our energies together to showcase our wonderful choir featuring the Chorale, musicians from the River Oaks Chamber Orchestra, which is in residence at SJD, and other musicians, and pack the church, that could be a big invite back to Christmas Eve," recalls Steve Newberry, Director of Music and Worship at St. John the Divine. "At the same time, Director of Membership Kim Jameson was contemplating creating an outside worship element on the boulevard for the community. We started talking and thought what kind of synergy would be created by combining it all together in one piece? That was the genesis of Christmas on the Boulevard."
Christmas on the Boulevard was ultimately envisioned as a three-part event. A self-guided outdoor live Nativity featuring live animals and parishioners taking the parts of the Holy Family, wise men, shepherds, and angels, starts at 4 pm, followed by the concert at 5 pm, and a festive Christmas jazz reception afterward. The reception will be outdoors this year, catered by Los Tios.
"One of the visions for our fine arts series was bringing different groups together. From the beginning, we had the SJD Chorale, ROCO, and a third element. We’ve had the Houston Boy Choir a couple of times, the Ft. Bend Boy Choir, and The Three Sopranos. In 2019, we also featured our younger choristers." The SJD Choristers (St. John the Divine’s children and youth choirs) will be participating this year, along with choristers from Episcopal High School.
Anna Teagarden, Associate Director of Music, is a new addition to the staff of St. John the Divine this year and is building the SJD Chorister program. She’s been preparing the students to perform at Christmas on the Boulevard. "It’s been very interesting trying to build a program during a pandemic, especially a singing program!" Anna explained. "But in spite of that — I think partly due to the fact that St. John the Divine is such a dynamic, energetic community — people were really ready and willing to come back. I have a great group of kids!
"I started a cherub choir this year, which is for ages three through kindergarten. They will not be participating in the concert, but they’ve all signed up to be angels and shepherds for the outdoor live nativity and they’re very excited. The Preparatory Choir (grades one through three), Junior Choristers (grades four through six), and Senior Choristers (grades seven through twelve) will all be participating in the concert.
"I’ve never seen this event before, so I’m very excited about everything from the camel to the orchestra to singing to the jazz reception. All of it! We’ve been working hard on our Christmas music and they’re ready."
Steve is "like a kid" when it comes to Christmas music. "Christmas carols are rich and varied and the fact is there’s just so much repertoire. This has become a really neat way to expose a lot of people to the joy of the season and getting to sing carols with the orchestra and organ. The concert includes an audience singalong to the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel’s Messiah. That’s one of the things I like about Christmas on the Boulevard – it’s not just a concert. It’s just a wonderful all-around musical experience."