UMC, Janus Christmas Festival returns to live event on Sunday

Four years ago, Janus Developmental Services joined with Noblesville First United Methodist Church to put on their first Christmas Festival of Music.

The next year, the event expanded, and the name changed to Christmas Festival of Music and Art.

Last year, there was the COVID-19 pandemic, and there was no concert.

This Sunday night, the in-person event returns to the church.

“We’re back to a live performance this year,” Jeff Wright, the church’s music director, said. “After being isolated for so long, many people are looking forward to being together in community, and many people are craving the beauty that we offer through our music. The beauty of our music offers healing and hope for all who hear.”

This year’s Christmas Festival of Music and Art begins at 5:30 p.m. Sunday with an art show and sale in the Narthex and Parlor of the church. Prelude begins at 6:40 p.m., with the concert at 7 p.m.

The Festival will feature the UMC Chancel Choir, Janus Choir and the Christmas Festival Orchestra.

The church’s partnership with Janus is a beautiful collaboration. Janus clients prepare artwork that they display and sell before and after the musical performance, Wright said. Janus also puts together a choir that sings as part of the musical program.

“It is always inspiring to watch the Janus Choir sing with such joy and abandon,” he said. “They truly capture the magic of the season in their delightful music.”

Wright said, “I believe this partnership works because it is mutually beneficial and fulfilling.” He said UMC spotlights the “tremendous talent” of the Janus clients, both in music and in art, which offers the opportunity for Janus clients to sell their artwork.

“During the performance, we also take an offering that supports the wonderful work of Janus Developmental Services,” Wright said. “In return, the Janus clients bring us much joy by sharing so freely and joyfully of their immense talents.”

I sat in on last week’s Wednesday rehearsal thanks to an invitation from the church’s assistant director of music Kate Baker, who is also the new Noblesville Main Street director, and who sings in the UMC Chancel Choir.

Choosing the music is one of Wright’s tasks. “We always try to select music that tells the entire Christmas story, beginning with the prophecy of a coming Messiah, then going on to tell the story of the birth of the Christ Child, then to reflections on how this birth has influenced all of human history.”

He said, “We want to bring this story to life in our music and explore all the mystery and joy that this story offers to our community and our world. This requires that we select excellent music that is well-crafted and imaginative, and that we prepare this music as carefully as possible to bring out the beauty inherent in the music.”

This year, the Chancel Ringers handbell ensemble is not included in the performance due to space restrictions, Wright said.

Another change is that the performance will be in the UMC Sanctuary rather than in Celebration Hall. “As a result, all of the available space will be taken up by the choir and orchestra.”

The prelude will begin at 6:40 p.m. in the Sanctuary. “We invite people to arrive early so they can find a seat and enjoy the beautiful prelude music before the performance begins at 7 p.m.”

The Chancel Choir is a large group of singers, with about 75 members.

“We are in a unique situation among churches in our area because we have an unusually large choir,” Wright said. “The former director, Mary Resler, built the ensemble to its current size, and it has come to be known as a community chorus for Noblesville.”

He said, “This event keeps alive a musical tradition that began many years ago under Mary Resler. “The collaboration with Janus Developmental Services is more recent and adds a wonderful depth to the concert and a strong connection to our community.”

The choir sings at civic events, such as the Martin Luther King Day celebration in January and most recently for the Lighting of the Square on Nov. 27 on the Hamilton County Courthouse Square.

So how does one become a member of the UMC choir? 

“No audition is required,” Wright said, “We ask only that people join us for rehearsals at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays, and that they enjoy being part of an ensemble that makes beautiful music and becomes a tight-knit community.”

Wright said most of the choir members are residents of Noblesville, but some come from surrounding communities, such as Carmel, Fishers and Indianapolis.

In addition to the 75 in the choir, the orchestra features 20 members. “The orchestra consists of some of the finest musicians from the greater Indianapolis area,” Wright said.

It’s his fifth year with the UMC Chancel Choir. “I’ve loved my time with this choir, and they push me to be a better musician through their commitment to making wonderful music together.”

He loves the rehearsals each week. “It’s an invigorating process to rehearse with this group every Wednesday and to lead them in our worship services on Sunday morning.”

What’s it been like returning after a hiatus due to the pandemic? 

“The choir has bounced back in a strong way after being apart for 18 months during COVID shutdowns,” Wright said. “People were anxious to make music together again. We all missed it tremendously.

Wright, of Fishers, works as the Dean of the School of Music, Theatre and Dance at Anderson University. “Working with the wonderful faculty members at Anderson University and with the dedicated singers in the Chancel Choir at Noblesville First United Methodist Church brings great joy to me. That makes me smile and makes life incredibly fulfilling. I consider myself a very fortunate individual to have the opportunity to create beautiful art in both of these settings.”

“Mary Resler, who started the concert years ago, considered the concert a gift to the community,” UMC pastor Jerry Rairdon has said.

Sunday’s concert, which through the years has turned into a huge event in the church’s Celebration Hall, has been going on since the late “much loved” Mary Resler, who came to Noblesville UMC in 1965 and retired as minister of music in May 2016 (she died in August 2017, at age 79), started the concert. It once took place in a smaller sanctuary of the church, then moved to Noblesville High School (which is now Ivy Tech), because there wasn’t a venue that would hold enough people. Then in 2003, the church, at 2051 Monument St., built the currently-used Celebration Hall that would seat more than 1,000 people. Resler directed an annual holiday concert for 46 years. This would be the 52nd year for a UMC holiday concert, although there wasn’t a concert in 2020, due to the pandemic.

What will attendees enjoy most? “I think people will enjoy the wide variety of music in this year’s performance,” Wright said. “They are sure to find something — hopefully many things — that they find engaging and deeply moving.”

Wright said, “I hope the community will join us for this wonderful evening of music.” The church will perform this music with an orchestra again at the 11 p.m. Christmas Eve service on Dec. 24. He said, “So all are welcome to enjoy the music again at that time.”

-Contact Betsy Reason at [email protected]