Signaling Christmas season through sacred music

Reflecting on meaning of Christmas through music

Kaley Oschmann, Staff Reporter

Trumpets sounded from the back of Benaroya Hall, a world class stage in the heart of downtown Seattle, to silence the audience as students begin to fill the stage. Performing alone, the trumpets were a loud and powerful force in the hall.

The trumpeters signaled the beginning of the 20th annual Sacred Sounds of Christmas concert put on by the Seattle Pacific University Music Department on Sunday, Nov. 24.

The concert is made up of performances by SPU’s Concert, Chamber, Gospel and Treble Choirs as well as the Flute Ensemble, Symphony Orchestra and Worship Arts Ensemble.

“All of these different ensembles come together to create a worship experience that is undoubtedly skillful and entertaining, but it has a greater purpose,” Christopher Hanson, director of music education and orchestral activities, said. “It states who we are as Christians.” 

Sacred Sounds is intended to signal the entrance into the Christmas season through music that reflects the deeper meaning of the season. 

Sacred Sounds originated out of former university president Philip Eaton’s desire to have SPU make an impact on the greater Seattle area.

Blake Dahlin
Audience members sing a hymn as part of SPU’s 20th annual Sacred Sounds of Christmas at Benaroya Hall.

“He wanted to showcase our performing groups through the medium of sacred music,” John Glancy, an SPU alumni who was involved in advertising the very first production of Sacred Sounds twenty years ago, said. 

The concert fulfills Eaton’s desire each year as it is a highly anticipated and sold out event in the Seattle area. It has created a space for Christians, whether part of the SPU community or not, to gather to worship and celebrate the birth of Jesus in a public setting. 

“SPU uses that space to worship God through the arts. We could have it here on campus, but we choose to be in downtown Seattle in the public light to demonstrate our love of God and celebrate Jesus’ birth,” Hanson said.

As Hanson sees it, Christmas is supposed to be a hallowed time of year for Christians to intentionally reflect on the birth of Jesus. Entering into the Christmas season, however, can bring a lot of stress which distracts from the real meaning of celebration. 

“There are a lot of opportunities to be overwhelmed about Christmas. What we do at Sacred Sounds is we focus on the reason for the season. It is a reminder for our alumni and our people why we are who we are,” Dr. Danny Helseth, co-music director of Sacred Sounds, said. 

Directors in the music department are very intentional about the musical pieces and order of arrangement that they decide on. 

“We had extraordinarily rich conversations on what the music was going to mean and what the text was and how that ties into the advent season,” Hanson said. 

The song selections and arrangement portray different aspects of the season such as the anticipation of Christ’s birth and the celebration of Christ’s birth. 

“The songs we select tell the narrative of the story of Christ and flow together to show prophecy, fulfillment and celebration,” Dr. Helseth said. 

Some of the songs were performed only by the choirs or instrumental ensembles, but for others both combined to create a more impactful experience.

When combined, the sound of the vocalists and instrumentalists creates a very powerful sound. This powerful sound is intended to represent the essence of the story of Jesus.

Blake Dahlin
Christopher Hanson, Director of Music Education and Orchestral Activities, leads the audience in the hymn “Come, Thou Long-Expected Jesus” as the opening song of Sacred Sounds of Christmas.

“The music enables us to long for Christ and reflect on our brokenness and need for a savior,” alumna Stephanie Armes, a current faculty member who was involved in wind ensemble as an undergraduate student and played the clarinet at Sunday’s performance, said.

For those who celebrate Christmas, like Armes, it is a beloved celebration. It is a reminder that a savior has come and humanity is able to be redeemed. As Christians enter into the season of advent, Sacred Sounds allows them to center themselves and truly examine why they take the time to celebrate: a savior has come.

“Sacred Christmas music has the ability to bring people together to remind us that we are not here alone. We are broken people and we are in need of saving,” Armes said.