'Let There Be' Cantata Welcomes Christmas
PRESS RELEASE - Northfield, IL - November 27, 2023
"Let There Be: A Christmas Cantata" The One Tree Many Branches concert series, in collaboration with the multisensory immersion of In the Realm of Senses, joyfully offers a new Christmas Cantata to be performed on Sunday, December 10th @ 4:30 PM. All are welcome, and admission is free. Refreshments follow the performance.
Lutheran Church of the Ascension, 460 Sunset Ridge Road, Northfield, IL 60093. More info at https://www.ascension-church.org/OTMB. L
"Let There Be'
By Carol Mueller
The annual Christmas program, that staple of congregational life, does not occur in a vacuum. Before the leaves are off the trees, the pastor, the organist, the choir director and all responsible for the musical life of a congregation are usually meeting to decide how the birth of Christ will be portrayed in story and song. Usually.
But not this year. Not at Lutheran Church of the Ascension, where the Christmas program has been evolving in two creative minds for months.
On December 10, the ELCA congregation in Northfield, Illinois will present the culmination of that evolution in an original cantata, "Let There Be," written by Pastor JoAnn Post and composed by Director of Music Mischa Zupko. It tells the familiar story of Christmas, of God come to Earth, in a new and unfamiliar way.
"There's a lot of great Christmas music out there," said Zupko, "but it has to be right for your congregation. We have a strong choir, and some cantatas require greater forces and more rehearsal time than might be typical." Thus, the collaboration of Post and Zupko, theologian and musician, writer and composer. The two committed Christians have worked together for almost ten years and have already used their God-given gifts to write two hymns together.
"Let There Be" librettist JoAnn Post, a Lutheran pastor, is the author of two published books and a contributing writer to The Christian Century magazine. Mischa Zupko, who has won national and international awards for his musical compositions, is an adjunct teacher of music theory and composition at DePaul University in Chicago. One of his compositions premiered at a Grant Park concert last summer.
A cantata, however, is a different musical animal. It requires words, lyrics for soloists and choirs. How did Zupko approach the composition of his first cantata?
"I asked JoAnn to tell me the story, and she did. From the beginning," he said. Not from the angel's visit to Mary, or the journey to Bethlehem on a donkey, or the birth of the Christ child in a lonely stable. "She started with creation," Zupko said.
"I've always thought the traditional Christmas story was far too narrow. We're talking about God creating everything for our sake," said Post. "This is a broader, more challenging perspective. It's global and inclusive. Jesus was born not just for believers."
"The church leans on tradition," agreed Zupko. "This is the modern way to think about this. I have great respect for intellect. We have the ability to see halfway across the universe. We can now see creation in detail and it makes us feel some awe. I think there is a big craving in our culture at large to have religious ideas and spirituality, to put God back in our universe."
And how is the universal nature of God, the global perspective of one deity for all humanity, presented in a cantata?
"By portraying science in a musical way," said Zupko.
Also with special effects.
"This will be a real multi-media experience and a multi-sensory event, with visual, olfactory and auditory senses involved. It will be super-emotional," Zupko said. There will be a back-lit screen with images flowing and scents, like the mild aroma of citrus.
On the auditory side, in addition to Ascension's adult choir, children's choir and strings, they will hire guest musicians and soloists. Post will narrate the cantata and Zupko will direct.
The one disappointment Post and Zupko have is that they ran out of time to finish the cantata, which they intend to complete in 2024. This year, for the debut of "Let There Be," they will use a few choral works from other artists, which will be identified in the program.
The prospect of further collaboration pleases both pastor and director of music. Though they have to squeeze this project in between full-time jobs, they enjoy working together, whether by Zoom, telephone or in person. Zupko believes their success lies in flexibility and mutual respect. "She's a writer, I'm a composer, we can do this."
"Let There Be" has been developed in collaboration with In the Realm of Senses, a multi-sensory creator of immersive experiences, led by Jeff Yang, artistic director. For "Let There Be," Yang is joined by video creator Farnaz Khosh-Sirat and perfumer Kim Czarnopys, who have created video content that weds completely with the narration and song texts, and scents that carry us into the world the cantata creates. In the Realm of Senses engages diverse artists and audiences in musical events that arouse the senses and stimulate the imagination "Let There Be" is One Tree Many Branches' second collaboration with these innovative, creative and evocative artists.
"Let There Be," part of the "One Tree Many Branches" concert series will be presented at 4:30 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10, at Lutheran Church of the Ascension, 460 Sunset Ridge Rd., Northfield, IL 60093. All are welcome. Admission is free. A reception will follow.
About "One Tree Many Branches"
One Tree Many Branches serves Chicago and the North Shore by presenting top-tier musical performances at Lutheran Church of the Ascension, Northfield, IL. The series seeks to deliver performances across the musical spectrum-performances that educate, surprise, challenge, inspire and entertain. All concerts are free and open to the public.
For more information see www.ascension-church.org/OTMB or call 847.446.8335.
JoAnn A. Post
Pastor, Lutheran Church of the Ascension
460 Sunset Ridge Road
Northfield, Illinois 60093