‘A Baylor Christmas’ refuses to be kept down despite COVID-19 challenges

The Chamber Singers records their performance at Armstrong Browning Library conducted by Brian Schmidt, associate professor of choral music and director of graduate choral studies. Brittney Matthews | Photo Editor

By Carson Lewis | Assistant Digital Managing Editor

‘A Baylor Christmas’ is one of the biggest events for the School of Music during the year. While the event frequently sold out when it gathered in-person crowds, the university will not be selling tickets to a live Christmas performance this year due to the pandemic. However, the School of Music has devised several ways in which the Baylor community can engage with musical works showcasing the holiday spirit.

Dr. Lynne Gackle, director of choral activities, said that the 2019 recording of the program would be shown on TV this year. Plans for the TV release were actually planned before the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

The program had been broadcast yearly, but in June 2019, the university and the KWTX broadcast office came to an agreement to showcase the event biennially.

“Music is just a part of who we are as human beings, and it’s definitely a part of Christmas — how can you not have music?” Gackle said. “It’s really going to be a special time.”

The production is a massive undertaking with 325 individual singers and a 90-piece orchestra coordinating each to make it happen.

Gackle also said that the hour-long cut of the performance was not the only cut that would be broadcast to media markets nationwide. A short cut was also taken, which could be played in a larger number of places across the country.

“[The 30 minute version] is going to be aired in even more markets. So, rather than 30 markets around the country, this will probably go out to around 80 markets,” Gackle said.

The School of Music has made a landing page for the holiday concert, describing what went into the process of releasing the film this year. A description on the website reads:

“Little did we know that our world would face the current global pandemic. Sadly, for the first time in many years, there will be no ‘in person’ A Baylor Christmas 2020. However, we are very happy to announce that KWTX will premiere the A Baylor Christmas 2019 production locally and throughout the country via their markets with Gray Entertainment starting December 24th!”

The School of Music is also offering another gift to the Baylor community during the holiday season, releasing ‘A Countdown to Christmas’, a series of vignettes showcasing a variety of performers from the school. Videos will be released daily from Dec. 1 to 24, and the School of Music will be working with Baylor Media to disseminate the short videos.

Dr. Stephen Gusukuma, a director of Baylor’s women’s choir and VirtuOSO, said that the Countdown to Christmas is special because it showcase of the diversity of talent within the program.

“There’s so much music being made, and very rarely do people get to see the depth of what we do in the School of Music … There’s so many really high level and award-winning groups on campus that are just featured less regularly in those big venues,” Gusukuma said. “It’s nice for people to see a little bit of that this season.”

Despite the slew of challenges caused specifically to musicians during the pandemic, the school of music has been producing and releasing online content, with Wind Ensemble performing on a livestream Monday night.

“You know one thing about musicians,” Dr. Gackle said. “They’re resilient. You can’t keep them down — not even in a pandemic.”