Beth Creighton’s Vespers Journey
December 6, 2021
The return of Vespers proved incredibly meaningful for students, faculty, and community members alike. For one faculty member in particular, however, it represented another step in their fascinating journey with the Millikin choir program.
Beth Creighton’s history with Vespers started long before she started working at Millikin.
“Being a Decatur native, the Millikin Choir Program has been part of my life for a long time,” said Creighton. “As a junior high and high school student, I attended multiple workshops/festivals/concerts and always enjoyed my time on campus; however, deciding to attend Millikin as a Vocal Music Education Major ended up happening by chance! After auditioning at several different colleges, Millikin ended up offering me the most scholarships (yay!) and – all of a sudden – I was part of a music program that I had watched from the outside for years.”
This year’s Vespers, however, provided a unique set of challenges: not only was COVID still a constant concern, but Dr. Brad Holmes and Beth Holmes had stepped away from the production, forcing Dr. Ben Hawkinson to step up to the plate. He sought out other conductors to assist with the production, and this was where Creighton came in.
“One of my favorite shows is ‘Big Brother’ and their tagline has always been, ‘Expect the unexpected.’ I’ve often attached that same tagline to Vespers…When you’re part of a creative team, you should always be ready to step in and do what needs to be done in order for “the show to go on.” Working with Dr. Ben Hawkinson and Michael Engelhardt has been a dream. While it is true that I am conducting a FEW pieces on the concert, Ben and Mike are definitely taking on the brunt of that responsibility. Being behind the keys is still my favorite place to be (and there are some great piano moments in the show this year!), but I’m happy to step up where I’m needed and add another Vespers ‘role’ to my list.”
For Creighton, the concert is also a reminder of what matters most.
“Vespers was always one of my Mom’s favorite holiday traditions and she was a loyal, Sunday afternoon audience member for many years. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in November 2005 and passed away in February 2008 at the age of 53. Playing the Sunday afternoon show felt very different for me after she died. I put a lot of pressure on myself to make it ‘perfect’ and that, compounded with the grieving process, made performing those first few years very difficult. In 2011, I decided to try something different: I bought my Mom a ticket to the Sunday afternoon show (back row of the balcony, house right, far corner). I know it probably seems silly to some, but it brought me comfort in the moment – and continues to do the same, as I’ve continued the tradition ten years later. I always buy the ticket early and tape it to the inside of my Vespers binder. It reminds me that even when rehearsals are hard – or long – or boring – my Mom would love every second of the end product. This year is no different and I hope my Millibabies remember that not every ‘empty seat’ is an ‘empty seat.’
After two full years without Vespers, students and faculty alike were itching for the opportunity to perform something this large-scale. For the first time since 2019, all four choirs were once again able to sing together, accompanied by an orchestra, with an audience in front of them.
“I love being reminded that, even in times when the human race can seem so divided, music can bring us together. The number of people it takes to execute this show is incredible – the students, the faculty, the orchestra, the Kirkland staff, the audience, etc. With music as the driving force, we all work toward a common goal and the final production is always worth the long hours and preparation.”
There is also deep satisfaction in presenting the concert for an audience.
“This might sound a bit cheesy, but the other thing I love about Vespers is watching parents/grandparents/loved ones of our students come to the show and experience it for the first time. There is nothing else like it and I love knowing that once we get them here… they’re hooked!”