Singing for the season

Special Photo
Meridian Chorale Director Steven Darsey performs during the Southern Folk Advent.

Special Photo Meridian Chorale Director Steven Darsey performs during the Southern Folk Advent.

Two greatly anticipated Christmas programs will be held next weekend as Meridian Herald presents its 16th Annual Southern Folk Advent service and the music ministry of Conyers First United Methodist Church presents "Sing We All Noel."

Southern Folk Advent will take place Dec. 5 at Old Church in Oxford at 4 p.m., featuring renowned churchman William Willimon. This unique service brings Southern shape-note folk hymns into a modern liturgy and introduces the season of Advent in a special way for its audience.

The program titled "When Shall I See Jesus," includes a message by Bishop Willimon and music by the Meridian Chorale under the direction of Steven Darsey, as well as music by the Sonny Houston Band.

"As Christmas approaches, Meridian Herald is host to a unique worship service based on Georgia traditions," Darsey said. "Southern Folk Advent uses folk hymns from 'The Sacred Harp' tunebook, compiled in Hamilton, Ga., and published in 1844. These hymns arose out of the life experience of poor folk struggling to survive in the early 19th century South.

"Their haunting music embodies the struggles and dreams of generations singing and praying for the coming of Christ. Old Church was built in 1841, and thus springs from the same era and region as 'The Sacred Harp' itself."

Southern Folk Advent will use "Sacred Harp" tunes as a structure for Bishop Willimon to weave brief folk-style sermons. The Meridian Chorale will sing folk tunes in original arrangements and the congregation will also sing, both a cappella and with folk instrumental accompaniment. The service will be introduced with a set of bluegrass gospel music led by the Sonny Houston Band.

Willimon, a bishop of the United Methodist Church, served as dean of the chapel and professor of Christian ministry at Duke University for 20 years. Darsey, the music director, has used his Georgia heritage and graduate work on "The Sacred Harp" to realize a "deep love for this music and the people from whom it sprang," he said.

Established in 1997, Meridian Herald is dedicated to promote the interaction of worship, music and culture and to bringing together communities and traditions of the past and present. It hosts a number of worship services, concerts and programs and offers publications on challenging the "church to higher ideals of creativity and moral purpose."

Old Church is near Oxford College of Emory University on the corner of Fletcher and Wesley streets. Admission to the concert is free and no tickets are required. An offering will be taken and there is general seating. For more information, visit www.meridianhearald.org.

The following evening, another free concert will be available as Conyers First United Methodist Church presents "Sing We All Noel." Long-time music minister, Dan Brokaw, said he is excited about the church's music ministry offering this Christmas program and invites the community to "come and join us and share in the Christmas spirit as we begin our Christmas season."

Brokaw will lead the 130 voices featuring several choirs from the Conyers church. Participating in "Sing We All Noel" is the Chancel Choir, the church's adult choir. Also included are the Herald Voices of the senior adult choir, the One Way Singers of the youth choir, and the Young Joys, the church's elementary school age choir.

"All these voices will blend together to share the message of our Lord's birth and our celebration," Brokaw said. "The musical is a sing-along and the congregation will be invited to sing with us on a number of the familiar Christmas carols.

"Sing We All Noel" will be presented Dec. 6, at 6 p.m. at Conyers First United Methodist Church, located at 621 Main St. in Conyers.

Beth Sexton is a freelance writer based in Snellville. If you have a story idea, e-mail Karen Rohr, features editor, at karen.rohr@rockdalecitizen.com.