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Sacred Concert Sparkles in 2024

Sacred Concert Sparkles in 2024

Scores of performers and audience members packed into Memorial Chapel last Sunday to celebrate the spring tradition of NMH Sacred Concert.

The concert began in 1895, when Northfield and Mount Hermon students came together to perform for founder D.L. Moody. According to school archivist Peter Weis ’78, this year’s performance was at least the 130th Sacred Concert. His calculation factored in some years when there were autumn concerts and more than one spring concert. “However you count them, this tradition is the single event which unites all our current students and alumni,” he said. 

Flutists play during Sacred concert

For Katherine Cassidy ’95, P’23, ’25, Sacred Concert is both an annual spring tradition and a family tradition. Cassidy was seated with her mother Betsey Radune P’95, ’95 in a rear pew last Sunday waiting to watch her father, Karl Radune ’60, perform with the Alumni Choir. The performance also featured the Concert Choir, the NMH Singers, the Select Treble Ensemble, the Symphony Orchestra, and the Chamber Orchestra.

“He has performed in this concert many times,” Cassidy said. “I have one daughter who is here right now [Maeve Tholen ’25]. My other one [Adalaide Tholen ’23]  was a senior last year, and she performed with him. It was really lovely. She was singing and playing music, and they were able to be in the concert together, which was really sweet.”

As in years past, student singers and musicians came together to offer a dynamic and emotional musical program. Alexandra Ludwig is in her first year of directing the chorus, while Steven Bathory-Peeler conducts the orchestras. This year’s program included an array of hymns, classical pieces, anthems, folk songs, plus a classic soul tune and a jaunty samba. Notable moments included the senior class hymn, “Simple Gifts,” by Joseph Bracket; “Tuttarana,” a rhythmic piece punctuated by layers of staccato by Indian-American composer Reena Esmail; and “The Northfield Benediction,” by Lucy Rider Meyer, a piece that was first sung for Betsey Moody, the mother of D.L. Moody, on her birthday celebration in 1885. 

treble ensemble members snap as they sing

Head of School Brian Hargrove welcomed visitors at the beginning of the concert and noted the contributions of beloved former choral director Sheila Heffernon, who led the program for four decades. This year, students and alums were also singing Ludwig’s praises. 

“Alexandra has us do really varied warm-ups,” said Harper Hellerman ’24, a singer with the Concert Choir and Select Treble Ensemble. “She’s really trying to focus on the feel of the music and making sure we're singing with emotion.”

Nan Brown ’71, P’02 ’98, who performed with the Alumni Choir, expressed her admiration for Ludwig’s work. “She's doing a wonderful job, and people respond to her beautifully,” she said.

This was the 39th year that Nancy Farrand ’75 performed with the Alumni Choir. She beamed throughout the performance. “I am in love with this school,” she said. “Coming back each year is so special because I've only missed [Sacred Concert] once.

“It is unthinkable for me to go through a spring without coming back to this place and to see these people,” Farrand said, gesturing to Brown. “There are some pretty good constants for me.” 

For Hellerman, preparing for the concert was a fun challenge. “Suscepit Israel,” from “Magnificat in D” by Johann Sebastian Bach (a selection of Bathory-Peeler’s), was among the pieces she looked forward to performing. The program described it as “joyful … full of trumpets and drums and created for a five-part chorus.” 

“It is sort of an ethereal sound,” Hellerman said. “Every line flows into the next line without all that much timing difference. All of the parts have beautiful lines that carry the tune at different points.” 

Alexandra Ludwig and Steven Bathory peeler hold hands at the end of the Sacred Concert

“Sacred Concert is really quite a feat when you realize the amount of people involved,” Ludwig said after the concert. “[The musical selections] were as old as 1723 and as recent as 2015, with genres from baroque to Philadelphia soul, a precursor to disco. We heard sounds from as far as India and South Africa and as close as Northfield. … While we didn't choose music with any theme in mind, messages of love, community, and home were all present.”

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