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Providence Welcomes Back Festival of Christmas Praise

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Providence University College is pleased to announce the return of Festival of Christmas Praise on Friday, December 2. The festive evening features traditional music and carols, as well as audience participation led by the Providence Choir and soloists.

The concert used to be an event the school and surrounding communities looked forward to every year.

“It’s the first one that many people have in the December calendar,” says Rob Bonefaas, choral director at Providence University College. “And then the students are done for the year. So there’s a nice atmosphere of anticipation before and at the concert.”

The long-standing tradition was cancelled prior to Christmas 2020. It had been a cornerstone of Providence’s music program, which had thrived under the choir direction of Dr. Henry Schellenberg, who passed away in 2013. Both the choir and music program had seen fewer enrollments since Schellenberg’s passing.

Bonefaas joined the Providence teaching staff in September 2021 with the goal of revitalizing the music program and bringing back the Christmas concert.

“This will be the first Festival of Christmas Praise in-person in many, many years,” says Bonefaas. “Last year’s was online, of course due to COVID. We were seeing what we could get going and so we had to try something, which was online. And then we had done a spring program that was in-person, but this is the first Festival of Christmas Praise.”

Nicholas P. Greco, provost for Providence, is looking forward to bringing back the special event.

“There used to be a brass quartet that provided wonderful Christmas music and a read-through of various Scripture passages that outlined the beautiful Christmas story,” says Greco. “Attendance was usually quite good. Our chapel would be full.”

The event was especially popular perhaps because many of those in leadership at Providence have either had music education or hold music in a special place. Greco himself holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music.

The school and its community of supporters are excited to see how the music program take shape under the direction of Bonefaas, while holding a special place of remembrance for the program as it was under Dr. Schellenberg.

“Dr. Henry Schellenberg was an excellent teacher and choral conductor, and he took the helm in organizing many of these concerts in the past,” Greco says. “One of his talents was to be able to take what he was given and craft that into a wonderful treasure for the attendees to experience. The night was always a precious time, mostly because of what Dr. Schellenberg, and other members of our music faculty, put into it. At Providence, we remember his work and celebrate his legacy when we are reminded of him. In fact, there’s a garden on campus called the Henry Schellenberg Memorial Garden, so his memory is always close to us. We would love to see a program grow and be sustainable at Providence. This is just one small step towards that possible goal.”

After last year’s online rendition of the Christmas concert, Bonefaas is excited to bring back something that many thought had been lost.

“After Schellenberg passed away a few years ago, the music program at Providence had suffered,” Bonefaas says. “And then COVID, obviously. But I saw an opportunity here to see what we could bring back. Last year I began that process, and this year we get to continue it.”

This year’s program is something a little different, according to Bonefaas. They will start off by inviting full audience participation in singing “Joy to the World.”

“The hymn is generally quite well known,” he says. “It’s a great way to start off together as an audience, especially in regard to the overall theme of what I’m hoping to give out of this specific concert. The idea here is, how do you celebrate such a thing? How do you celebrate the festival of Christmas? So starting with a hymn of praise is fitting.”

Featured selections will also include a traditional piece for choir based on a psalm entitled “Clap Your Hands,” followed by “I Waited for the Lord,” a piece by Mendelssohn. Guest soloist Grace Raap will be singing “Of the Father Love Begotten” by Aurelius Clemens Prudentius, and Providence voice students Gabrielle Dostie Charette (alto) and Chenoa Funk (soprano) will each deliver a solo performance.

The audience will also enjoy carols such as “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Angels We Have Heard on High,” and “Silent Night.” Bonefaas intends to end the evening with the spiritual “This Little Light of Mine,” which for some may seem a surprise choice for Christmas. However, it was a personal choice for the choir director who sees it as an anthem of hope for the growth of the program in future years.

“Because of where the choir has come from and where we are hoping to go, and along with it being Christmas with the theme of songs of praise… we are looking forward to what we expect,” says Bonefaas. “So I thought it would be fitting to end with ‘This Little Light of Mine.’ It’s a traditional spiritual experience.”

And the program is growing. Last year the choir had five students and this year it has 15.

“It’s still a small start,” says Bonefaas. “People have just come and started to take it more as a course in their curriculum. And they are showing up because they want to sing.”

With the Festival of Christmas Praise’s atmosphere of welcome, along with its surprising mix of spiritual songs, the community intends to celebrate.

“Where else do you get light? Where else do you get joy? Truly in music and truly in who we have as Jesus Christ,” says Bonefaas. “It will be quite entertaining, lighthearted, and give joy to the season.”

The Festival of Christmas Praise will be held at the Providence campus in Otterburne at the R.W. Affleck Chapel. Beginning at 7:30 p.m., this event is free to the public. A free will offering will be taken.

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