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 in 2016, our seasonal musical offering was a 30-minute choral prelude to the evening Christmas Eve services by the SJD Chorale with brass and timpani. 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 SJD Chorale, musicians from ROCO (River Oaks Chamber Orchestra), which is in residence at SJD, and other musicians and pack the church - an event 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 outdoor 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. The outdoor portion begins at 4 pm with a live Nativity, snow, as well as Citizens Truck and Chik-fil-A food trucks. The concert follows in the Church at 5 pm with a festive Christmas jazz reception afterward with light bites from Chatty Mouse.
"One of the visions for our fine arts series was bringing different groups together. From the beginning, Christmas on the Boulevard has featured 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 again this year.
Anna Teagarden, Associate Director of Music, was a new addition to the staff of St. John the Divine in 2021 and leaned into building a strong SJD Chorister program. She’s been preparing the students to perform once again at Christmas on the Boulevard. "It was 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 last year, which is for ages three through kindergarten. They will not be participating in the concert, but they are singing on Sunday in Awesome Worship (December 18 at 9:15 am in the Hall Life Center) 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 this year’s concert.”
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 sing-along 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."
Christmas on the Boulevard returns this year on Saturday, December 17 beginning at 4 pm. As a gift to the community, there is no charge for any of the festivities! Register here.