Vespers Kicks off the Holidays with Contemplation and Peace

On Dec. 7-8, Kirkland Fine Arts Center (KFAC) will host Millikin’s 61st annual Vespers celebration. All four curricular choirs participate in this event.

“Vespers is more than a Christmas concert,” Heidi Buch, the president of University Choir, said.“It’s true, we sing things, but it’s a whole experience. With the lights and the walking together and music, it’s more than just singing. It’s making music. It changes people and really starts off the holiday season in an amazing way.”

Collegiate Chorale, University Choir, Millikin Men, and Millikin Women are all involved in Vespers. Most colleges host a holiday concert, but Millikin’s concert is one of the few that equally features all four choirs.   

The choirs will fill KFAC, with singers on the stage, in the aisles, and up in the balconies. 

“We loved the idea of surrounding the audience with the choir,” Beth Holmes, the director of Millikin Women, said. “Rather than the audience being a spectator, they sit in the middle of the choirs.”

Additionally, Vespers will have an orchestra with both professional musicians and students in the pit. Most holiday concerts do not have lighting, but Vespers will have deliberate lighting throughout the show. Dr. Brad Holmes, the director of University Choir and Millikin Men, will handle the light cues.  

“‘Vespers’ means ‘evening prayers,’ so it’s this very traditional, sacred concert, and there’s this sense of sobriety and darkness of evening coming,” Holmes said. “It’s the prayers before nighttime idea, so the whole first part of the concert is in darkness with very little lighting, for the most part…and then toward the end of the concert there’s this crescendo of color that happens as we go toward this more celebratory end.” 

This year’s theme is Sing We Now of Christmas, which corresponds to the songs and celebration that Vespers is known for.  

However, this year has an additional element: the prayer for peace. This theme was borne out of the pressures surrounding the end of the semester as well as the commercialism and stress of the holiday season.

“Many of the students, as well as the faculty involved, are facing pressing, difficult, stressful moments,” Holmes said. “[It’s] that sense that we’re not just going to ignore the truth about that difficulty in our lives, but we’re going to bring it to this celebration and ask for peace amid the celebration of Christmas.”

For those involved in Vespers, it is a deeply moving experience. The concert encourages contemplation and participation, and singers and audience members alike often walk away transformed.   

“There are those profound moments to get to go, ‘Wow, this is a season of wonder, and we have the opportunity to celebrate it together, to think about it, to take a few minutes without rushing, without the light, without any distractions, and think about it,” Holmes said. “And that kind of contemplation results in some meaningful emotions and decisions and thinking.”

People travel to Millikin from across the country to attend Vespers, and it is one of the most beloved Millikin events in the Decatur community. KFAC is usually filled for all four performances. There are several people who have been coming to Vespers for years.    

Students talk about the conversations that they have had with community members after the show. A lot of audience members approach the students to thank them, and both students and teachers will attest that crying is not uncommon.

“Sometimes, people will come not knowing that they need fulfilling, or not knowing that they are going to get it from Vespers, and then they leave and they say, ‘Wow, I didn’t know how much I needed that,” Buch said. “I think that’s, in large part, a testament to the power of music. Music can just kind of fill those gaps that people have. Heal some of those wounds.”

Vespers will take place in KFAC on Dec. 7 and 8. There are shows at 2:00 PM  and 7:30 PM on both days. Students can claim a free ticket to the 7:30 PM show on Dec. 8 by presenting their Millikin ID at the Kirkland Ticket Office.

“What I would encourage people to do is set aside all of the glitzy whatever and come, just with your heart, and listen and enjoy and participate,” Holmes said. “Be in the middle of the choir and then become the choir, and also have those moments of quiet to have your own thoughts. Every year, it seems like something I need myself.”