Beauty, Joy and Gratitude: ATU’s Feast of Carols 2023

ATU Feast of Carols 2023 Rehearsal_06
Arkansas Tech University students rehearse for the 2023 ATU Feast of Carols concert inside Witherspoon Auditorium.

Dr. Ben Johns has a specific goal in mind for the 2023 Arkansas Tech University Feast of Carols concert.

“No matter what people’s traditions are for this time of year, I hope that everyone leaves with a sense of beauty, joy and gratitude,” said Johns, ATU visiting director of choral activities. “That’s the main message for all of these pieces.”

ATU’s Feast of Carols will begin at 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 3, in Witherspoon Auditorium. Admission will be free and open to the public.

Performance groups will include the ATU Choral Artists, ATU University Singers, ATU Concert Chorale and ATU Brass Choir.

Johns and Dr. Jon Clements, professor of music, will serve as conductors for the choral ensembles. Dr. Mary J. Trotter and Garrett Snavely will accompany the choirs on piano.

“It’s going to start in a mystical place,” said Johns. “We will begin with medieval-style music that maybe people aren’t so used to hearing, but is still very holiday themed. The music will take us to a couple of different countries and their traditions of celebrating the season.”

Among the highlights of the concert will be the ATU Choral Artists’ performance of the final movement of a composition by ATU alumnus Rex Bell. The piece calls for the choir to be joined by piano, bass, drums, saxophone and trumpet.

Holiday favorites on the program include “Good King Wenceslas” by John Mason Neale, “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Ives and “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” by Arthur Warrell.

Those wishing to hear additional standards of the season would be well advised to find their seats in advance of the 2:30 p.m. drawing of the curtain.

“Before the concert starts, we’re planning to have small caroling groups wander into the audience and sing to those who are there early,” said Johns. “I encourage an early arrival because that pre-concert music will be part of the experience.”

ATU’s Feast of Carols 2023 will conclude with all the choirs combining to perform “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl.

After the show, student members of the ATU chapter of the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) will conduct a bake sale. Proceeds will assist ATU students who wish to attend an ACDA conference in 2024.

That kind of collaboration — on stage and off — impressed Johns upon his arrival at Arkansas Tech earlier this fall and has enriched his initial semester on the ATU campus.

“The thing that struck me first about the singers here is their great sense of community,” said Johns. “They are so supportive of each other. A big reason to join a choir is for social reasons…to make music with friends. I get that sense with these singers. They love being together and making music together. It’s been a joy for me to be a part of that process and to be more of a coach than a director.”

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