By: Natalie Alexander Wilson
Anyone hoping to heighten or motivate their own Christmas Spirit- mark your calendars for the second Sunday in December of 2023. Every year on this particular Sunday at 5pm, Bethel United Methodist Church(on the corner of Hampton and Washington Streets in historic downtown Walterboro) elevates the season with beautiful holiday classics.
Walking into a well lit sanctuary, greeted by local bank President Jamie Bunton as he hands out flyers and later thankfully coordinates the lights, one is welcomed by the sound of a string quartet from Charleston. Main contact and beloved celloist, Timothy O'Malley says "They look forward to this concert every year because it makes it feel like Christmas has officially begun." His cohorts Ben Weiss and wife Jennifer Weiss, parents of twins, along with Tomas Jakubek accompany to provide a wonderful atmosphere of practiced ease and elegance.
5pm and they switch to the hymn, "O Come All Ye Faithful, " then in a procession enters the choir.
Dr. Riddick Ackerman/OB-Gyn
Mike Wilson/ CDL/Historian
Wally West/leadership MGR
Cal Griffith/ entrepreneur/realtor
Elton Culpepper/grocer/ praise team director
Kristen Murdaugh/professional vocalist/world traveler
Eve Richardson/educator&tennis enthusiast
Catherine Bunton/Clemson student/ future STAR
Celeste Stone/ educator
Catherine Fanchette/ educator/Administrator
Jennifer Bunton/music educator
Stephanie Drawdy/ music educator
Amanda Fulton/ music educator
All classically trained and lovers of fine music.
Tindall McRae/educator turned nurse
Donna Kaye McIver/ came home and thankfully joined our choir for this concert and was overjoyed that her family drove all the way from Virginia to hear this performance. She also let us all know, "How thankful she was and how blessed that we all continue to share these traditional pieces to future generations."
This year's Director (as he has done these past 3 years), Tom Whitacre takes the conductors spot as Austin Williams and the string quartet accompany to finish this first hymn. Then Jamie lowers the lights as Austin exits and Doctor Scott Wachter thanks the audience in attendance both in person and via Facebook live (thanks to Johnnie Thomas, sound and broadcast engineer) and thanks all of the volunteers who began practicing these pieces the first week of September as they do every year. Bethel welcomes Anyone hoping to sing and praise, practices are Wednesdays at 6pm. As the pastor wraps up the invocation MaryWynn Chamblin turns on the light to the clavonova and she and her daughter, Margaret Gerideau prepare with strings as Tom lights his baton. The music begins with such energy as they sing,"Alleluia! Gloria" by Trappe & Fettke. What a way to set the tone for the night! So much joy, drama, the dynamics of the piece incredible! This is the first moment onlookers can tell that Tom Whitacre has studied each piece. It showed that he could feel every measure as he conducted with passion and enthusiasm creating a dramatic and moving concert. Another annual favorite is then sung when the strings play a short interlude to allow the choir to come out of the loft to the main floor to sing a soft quiet hymn and then they take their seats as now the handbell choir take their place. Tom Whitacre also directs and assists with 3 high bells these seven women. They practice together on Mondays at 6pm. All members of Bethel but they too welcome any dedicated volunteers to join. Especially since skilled musicians,Leslie Williamson Frekke and Sharon Mole Courtney play 8 or more bells at a time. Sharon Courtney, Sharon Molinari and Theresa Wachter usually hold 2 bells in each hand. Leslie picking up and setting down the largest of the bells with flow and precision helping Tom and the group keep time. Susann Padgett, Harriet Bonds and Natalie Wilson smiled and embraced the middle notes as they all rang, chimed and malleted "The Little Drummer Boy."
They all took their seats as the first soloist, Jennifer Bunton took her place next to the strings to render a most heartfelt warm version of ,"I Wonder as I Wander"by Niles. Again the strings then take the highlight with the traditional favorite, "In the Bleak Midwinter" by Darke/Nikolajevs.
Next up the women's chorus with "Christmas Lullaby" -Rutter
then the men with a fun, "Hurry, Shepherds Run" -Wagner adapt. Singley. The full choir returns to sing Christmas classic,"The Holly and the Ivy" arr.Davies. Each time strings fill the silence and now the handbells final piece, "We Three Kings" arr Thompson.
Stephanie Drawdy, high school choral director is now in place, accompanied by MaryWynn on the Grand Piano and the quartet, to vocalize a powerful soulful tale of,"What Child is This"-Wilberg. Each note full and beautiful.
The choir follows with what Bennie Ordel, retired educator and church member in attendance said was her most favorite song of the night,"Angel's Carol "-Rutter with talented soloist Tindall McRae and then a new piece to this concert "The Jesus Gift" by Martin, arr. Leavitt.
The choir returns to the loft but leaves behind professional vocalist (who we were all honored made it from Austria in time to join our efforts), Kristin Murdaugh at the grand wow the entire room with her wide range of contralto awesomeness in,"O Come, O Come Emanuel" arr. Belliston.
She and Marywynn then join the choir for their final quiet ending with,"Jesus, Lord at Thy Birth"-Mohr & Parker.
Doctor Scott Wachter bids us all farewell with his closing prayer thanks and benediction and a magical evening of collaborative hardwork is Over. It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas. Mark those calendars everyone for Sunday, December 9th, 2023.
Wow, What a Night to Remember.