Author – Brian Hehn is the Director of The Center for Congregational Song
I had the pleasure of being invited to attend the Getty “Sing! An Irish Christmas” concert at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. last weekend. As an organization that prides itself on congregational song, the Getty brand always has congregational singing as a feature of their events and so I went looking forward to some great Irish-inspired music combined with congregational song. I was not disappointed.
The First Half – “Village Festival”
The first half of the show is billed as mostly a concert with a few moments to “warm up our voices” for the second half. There were a couple of opportunities for the audience to sing, but mostly it featured the band and on-stage vocalists. I didn’t mind because the show was tightly produced and the musicianship on display was world-class. The standard Christmas carols sung were presented with fresh yet simple arrangements that felt both new and familiar at the same time. Interspersed with the traditional carols and hymns were moments of pure brilliance when guest artists like Trip Lee (Christian rapper) and Sierra Hull (2018 International Bluegrass Music Awards Mandolin Player of the Year) graced the stage. When attending a concert by a song-writer, it is expected that they push their own artistic creations, but this concert was surprisingly balanced between Getty originals and other artists’ material. The highlight of the first half must have been what I can only describe as the instrumental “hoedown” that featured the band, including the mandolin playing of Sierra Hull.
The Second Half – “Village Carol Service”
The second half of the show was billed as being inspired by the King’s College Lessons and Carols service. There were to be three readings each followed by a few songs and/or carols. The readings were pulled from Psalm verses “which speak prophetically to the coming of Christ” and the Gospel accounts of the birth in the New Testament. This is the only part of the show where I felt a bit of disappointment. When I read “lessons and carols,” I had a set of expectations born out of my previous experiences and knowledge of the King’s College tradition. The second half of the concert, while including some readings and congregational singing, was not a lessons and carols service. The flow was very different, including some lengthy song-sets (something akin to a typical Praise and Worship style service) and a short sermon with a call to commit your life to Christ. I don’t have problem with any of those elements being present, but some of the hallmarks of a lessons and carols service is the absence of any sermon or spoken word other than the scripture readings and the constant back-and-forth between scripture and song like a conversation.
The audience sang enthusiastically, and it was a joy to be surrounded by so many singers joining in the song. However, after experiencing such tightly produced moments in the first half of the show, the congregational singing was not included in a way that had that same flow. There were questions (voiced on stage) about whether the house lights should be on or off, vague instructions about whether to sing in harmony or not, and what felt like half-hearted conducting from Keith when we were supposed to be singing. The singing by the people, however, was still well-done and obviously expected and appreciated by those in attendance. I hope that in the future they will give as much thought and effort into incorporating the congregational singing as they obviously did for the rest of the show. On that note, I must mention a final highlight which was a fully a cappella singing of a classic carol to send us all out: the perfect end to a thoroughly enjoyable Christmas concert.
The concert was extremely well done. I can see why they play to sold out crowds at some of the country’s most well-known venues. It was entertaining, inspiring, and fun. It also was expressly and unapologetically Christian, which is not always the case when you attend a “Christmas” show. While the theological viewpoints expressed in the sermon did not necessarily line up with my personal beliefs, I appreciate the Getty Music commitment to spreading the Gospel through song and word. I also applaud Getty Music for continuing to champion congregational song. They always speak eloquently about the subject and inspire people to sing together, which is something we also work for here at The Center for Congregational Song.
A duet of “In The Bleak Midwinter” between Kristen Getty and Sierra Hull with Keith accompanying gently on piano. It was the simplest part of the show placed at the perfect time, allowing us to bask in the beauty of the hymn’s poetry and melodic line.