Last Thursday, NMH students, staff, and faculty were joined by roughly 200 alumni and friends for Vespers in Manhattan. Vespers, a joyous holiday celebration featuring choral and orchestral music and readings, is performed each year both on and off campus. NMH has alternated its off-campus Vespers performances between Boston and New York for nearly a century. This year, St. George’s Episcopal Church served as the site for the off-campus event.
Built in the 1850s in the Stuyvesant Square neighborhood in lower Manhattan, St. George’s was clearly designed with musical reverberations and spiritual reverie in mind. For Vespers, the church’s interior was festooned in evergreen swags and lined with scores of poinsettias. Its dramatic apse (the concave, semicircular recess above the sanctuary) was lit in periwinkle blue, suggesting the hue of a twilight sky.
There were frequent pauses for greetings as visitors trickled down the expansive orange and black tiled central aisle. Alumni paused to offer hugs and handshakes to former teachers and mentors; old friends snapped selfies, and the church was generally abuzz with a mixture of chatter and orchestra preparation.
Religious studies and philosophy teacher Jennifer Keator P '26, ’20, ’19 was among those mingling from her seat. Keator was there to support her daughter Sarah Keator ’26 in her performance with the Select Treble Ensemble. “Her sister was in the select ensembles as well,” Jennifer said. “It’s a family tradition to do these New York trips for Vespers. Usually my husband, [history and social science teacher Sam Keator], does them, but I’m on sabbatical, and I get to make the trip this year.”
Keator said she was happy to be surrounded by many familiar faces in the crowd, such as Kyra McDonald ’14. McDonald, a former choir member and conductor’s assistant, has lived abroad since graduating from NMH but recently moved back to the U.S. and found that a work trip to New York coincided with the Vespers performance. “This is my very first Christmas full-time back in the states, and I wanted to come experience this as an alumna. I was really involved in the performing arts,” she said, adding “I really enjoyed my time in the choir.”
The performance at St. George’s wended through the same thoughtfully curated pattern of readings and choral and orchestral arrangements as the on-campus program on Dec. 3. “We want to create an experience,” said Choral Director Alexandra Ludwig of the evening's itinerary.
The concert concluded with a moving version of “Still Nacht” (“Silent Night”) by Franz Gruber (1787-1863). The song began softly as the lights gradually dimmed. Choral singers, frocked in maroon and blue, were eventually reduced to silhouettes, as a singular, angelic voice gradually arose like an ethereal wisp of smoke. Afterwards, soloist Everett Gareth Liu ’24, was quickly embraced in a teary group hug.
Post-performance, friends and alumni were invited to a celebration at Jackdaw, a lively venue in the nearby East Village. With a festive holiday backdrop that included music, hors d'oeuvres, and cozy seating, guests spent the remainder of the evening catching up with friends and making new connections. Head of School Brian H. Hargrove and his wife, Linda Hargrove, lingered to mingle, as did other NMH staff members.
Both a celebration and a poignant reminder that these enduring traditions create meaningful memories and nurture connections, Vespers again offered a spark of light in this darkest time of the season.