Millikin’s Vespers concert is a long-standing annual tradition that brings listeners and audience members from all over the US to share the warmth and beauty that music embraces. Vespers features all of Millikin’s choir ensembles performing Christmas hymns and pieces that celebrate the exciting holiday. Whenever a shift is made through the choirs, the audience is invited to stand and sing along to a famous hymn. It is a magical experience with all the lights, choreographed movement, dancing, diversity of music, live orchestra, and engaging experience for the audience.
All of these aspects have made it an unforgettable performance that attracts many individuals. With 6,500 audience members who attend this yearly ritual, you can imagine the heartache of it being cancelled after 61 years of unbroken tradition.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Millikin is invested in providing a safe environment and has carefully made a safe plan for everyone to follow. With this plan came the cancellation of all Kirkland Fine Arts Center concert events.
With so many students traveling from around the US to receive teaching from Millikin’s talented professors, Millikin’s School of Music staff made sure they researched how singing and playing instruments spread germs, how to prevent it, the environments which are best to rehearse in, and how to keep everyone safe.
The conductors for Vespers – Beth Holmes, Brad Holmes, and Benjamin Hawkinson – have stayed up-to-date with information regarding the spread of germs through music-making, and they are creating the safest plan for their students. They’re also looking ahead to create a virtual Vespers event this winter.
Brad Holmes, the Artistic Director and conductor, had some insight on the plans following the cancellation of Vespers. Dr. Holmes has persisted with a hopeful outlook for the future knowing Vespers will be so meaningful once we are able to have a production again.
“We will be producing a ‘Best of Vespers’ virtual event drawing on broadcast from the last five years,” Brad Holmes said.
Beth Holmes, a conductor for Vespers, says that there is a plan to incorporate a virtual piece with this year’s singers. Although she is saddened by the cancellation of Vespers, she is “reminded of the amazing manner in which the Decatur community and others support the annual concert.” She also added “the fact that at stressful times during ‘normal’ fall semesters we can all lose sight of the fact that at the simplest level, singing together is a privilege and joy.”
The conductors are making sure to keep a positive outlook on things despite the cancellation.
Especially for Millikin seniors, the cancellation is truly hard and heartbreaking. Vespers is an amazing growing and learning opportunity. There are many leadership roles that allow students to see how concerts and performance work from the inside, students’ voices grow tremendously from all of the hard work and practice, and performers grow deep, meaningful connections.
“Vespers is the most unique and special performance opportunity I have ever been given, and I know it is something so special that cannot be replaced and will be greatly missed,” senior vocal music education major Alicia Rosier said.
Shannon Miller, a senior Vocal Music Education major, was initially bummed at the news of Vespers being cancelled.
“The thought of being unable to savor the moments of your last Vespers performance, a time where you are surrounded by so many special and talented people, is an upsetting thought,” Miller said.
Having to forego something so meaningful to not only students but community members and staff is very hard, but Miller has kept a positive outlook.
“I believe that its absence will just make next year’s performances even more appreciated and magical,” Miller said.
It seems that though people are saddened by this tradition being cancelled this fall, everyone agrees it is what is best for our students, staff, community, and professors.
Although Millikin’s singers won’t be singing to you in person this fall, we hope you tune in to “Best of Vespers.” Brad Holmes says it’s our way of saying “we’re still making music here and we are anxious to see you in person soon!”
Keep your eyes out for dates and times available for Millikin’s first-ever virtual “Best of Vespers.”