An SPU student musician describes being part of the Sacred Sounds of Christmas

Each year at the Sacred Sounds of Christmas, concertgoers usher in the Christmas season with traditional Advent and Christmas music performed by the nationally recognized student and faculty musicians from Seattle Pacific University.

Now celebrating its 20th year, the concert is again on track to sell out the impressive Benaroya Hall in downtown Seattle. The Concert Choir, Wind Ensemble, Women’s Choir, Symphony Orchestra, and Gospel Choir will perform to a packed hall on Sunday, Nov. 24.

What’s it like for students to be a part of the concert?

SPU Voices asked senior Lauren Estep.  A Seattle native and physics major, Estep has sung in the Concert Choir as an alto 2 since her freshman year. Here’s what she had to say about preparing for, and performing in, the acclaimed concert:

What’s it like to prepare for Sacred Sounds in rehearsals?

Sacred Sounds preparations begin right away Autumn Quarter. In fact, we usually begin learning new Christmas music on the first day we’re back to classes.

We typically prepare three to four new songs for the Concert Choir, and then another four songs to perform with the other choirs, band, and orchestra. We also work on five familiar hymns and Christmas carols that we’ll lead the audience in singing.

For the majority of the quarter, we rehearse just as the Concert Choir. In fact, we rehearse with everyone else only two or three times. And that includes a big dress rehearsal at Benaroya Hall, usually the day before the concert.

What’s it like backstage before the Sacred Sounds begins?

 The day of the performance, we arrive at Benaroya Hall around noon to begin our final preparations. Those preparations include more practice getting on and off stage and similar logistics; we also spend time in extensive warmups. After a quick break for dinner, we get dressed for the concert.

If we still have more than an hour before the concert begins, we spend time doing homework, studying for finals — which usually happen the next week or two — chatting, or just hanging out. Everyone is pretty excited and anxious to get going with the performance we have been spending so many months preparing for!

Tell us a little about what it’s like once the concert begins.

My first year I was SO nervous to be singing at such a grand hall and in front of so many people. But over the years, it has become more of an enjoyable and just fun experience with less stress and nerves.

One annual highlight for me is when Dr. Stephen Newby conducts all the choirs as one for a song. He has this inspiring leadership ability to bring us all together as one and really perform with meaning and feeling.

Once the concert is over, do you and the other student performers have a favorite tradition?

By this time, we’ll have spent about 12 hours at the hall on performance day. Because we had carpooled to Benaroya Hall together, we pile back into cars, go home to change out of our sweaty clothes (it gets HOT on stage!), and then head out for some Frankie and Jo’s late night ice cream in Ballard.

It’s such a huge amount of work and build up for one single night that once it is over, we all have such a sense of relief and exhaustion.

What would surprise audience members if they knew about it?

I think parents would be surprised to know how quickly it all seems to fall into place at the end. We practice the music in chunks over the quarter and separate in parts — then within the final few rehearsals everything just clicks and falls into place, and we’re ready.

Parents may also be surprised at how we can memorize five songs in the span of a couple days when we’re told at the last minute to be off score (or if we procrastinated on memorization).

This is my fourth and final Sacred Sounds of Christmas, and what I’ll miss the most is the overwhelming feeling of singing with all the choirs, the orchestra, and the audience as we come together in music to celebrate the Christmas season.

Even though we begin singing Christmas songs in early October, Sacred Sounds has always felt like my kickoff to the Christmas season. And, while the concert can be a stressful time for student musicians, the Sacred Sounds of Christmas is definitely an incredible thing to be a part of!

The 2019 Sacred Sounds of Christmas is Sunday, Nov. 24, 7 p.m., at Benaroya Hall. On sale now, individual tickets are $22 and $25. When you buy 10 or more tickets, tickets are $20.  Visit the Sacred Sounds of Christmas website for more information and to purchase your tickets.

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