A maskless Christmas to all: ‘A Baylor Christmas’ concert returns after pandemic

The "A Baylor Christmas" symphony has its dress rehearsal at Jones Concert Hall. Assoah Ndomo | Photographer

By Emma Weidmann | Staff Writer

On a stage fringed with sparkling fir trees and lined edge-to-edge with garland, each ornament reflects the glint of a shining string instrument. Five choirs and an 88-piece orchestra rehearsed Tuesday night in Jones Concert Hall to prepare for Thursday night’s opening performance of “A Baylor Christmas.”

Thursday’s opening performance will take place at 7:30 p.m. in Jones Concert Hall, with tickets available through the ticket office website. Additional performances will be held at 7:30 p.m. Friday and at 3 p.m. Sunday in Jones Concert Hall.

The annual concert is making its return to campus without COVID-19 restrictions or alterations for the first time since 2019. Canceled fully in 2020, the concert made a meek return last Christmas with a virtual audience and a mask mandate in place for each musician.

This year, the tradition returns in its full glory, opening with a piece called “Light Beyond Shadow.” According to Dr. Lynne Gackle, director of choral activities, the piece will set the theme for the concert, representing how the world and Baylor in particular have moved through the pandemic.

“In the shadow of the pandemic, there is light,” Gackle said. “Of course, light is synonymous with Baylor lately, and also the light of Christ, the light of the world … It’s thrilling. We’re so excited to do this. To really sing and have the music touch people in the moment is really special — and of course, without masks where you can see faces and eyes and connect with the audience.”

The audience will be able to connect with the performers in another way, as four of the pieces are familiar hymns and holiday classics meant for the audience to sing along.

The program includes pieces in Nigerian, French, Swahili, Spanish and English, but each is gospel-focused. According to Gackle, Baylor is in a unique position to be able to center “the reason for Christmas” at concerts as a Christian university.

“The music is from all different places, and it’s all pointing to Christ, which is the light of the world here at Christmastime,” Gackle said.

Flower Mound junior Johniel Nájera plays trumpet in the concert. As a junior, this will be his first time playing in “A Baylor Christmas.” He said it’s exciting to be able to play this music with a full audience.

“There are a few grad students that did their undergrad here and then came back who have done this before, but for most people, this is our first one ever,” Nájera said. “It’s really fun … It’s really great to be a part of such a highly valued event.”