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Vespers 2022

Vespers 2022

Dec. 7, 2022 — In a candle-lit Memorial Chapel decorated with winter greens and red and white poinsettias, 70 students and faculty brought Vespers to Northfield Mount Hermon with two performances on Dec. 4. Through choral and orchestral music, carols, readings, and poetry from several traditions, the annual Vespers service is a moving celebration of the winter holiday season. 

Head of School Brian Hargrove noted that this year, NMH celebrates its 114th Vespers, a beloved school tradition. 

“Traditions can sometimes bind us, and they can also empower us,” Hargrove said. “And when we think about this tradition dating back to 1909, we think about this long connection to those who have come before us, to those who are here today, and to those who will follow us.”

Singers wearing NMH Choir robes processed into Memorial Chapel for Vespers on Dec. 4, 2022.

Students lit candles lining the middle aisle of the chapel, as the NMH Chamber Orchestra opened with a prelude, “Christmas Concerto” by Guiseppe Sammartini, followed by “Veni Emmanuel, Ancient Plainsong” arranged by Sheila L. Heffernon, NMH’s former director of choral and vocal programs, who retired last spring after 42 years. 

Then, in keeping with tradition, the Concert Choir, wearing NMH Choir robes, processed into the chapel hall from the back while singing “Sing We Noel,” arranged by Harvey B. Gaul.

What followed was a 90-minute showcase of students’ musical talents featuring the Chamber Orchestra, the Concert Choir, the Select Women’s Ensemble, and the NMH Singers. The students performed under the direction of Steven Bathory-Peeler, director of orchestra and concert band; Craig K. Sandford, assistant director of choral music; and the newest addition to the performing arts department, Roderick Demmings, NMH’s new director of choral music.

Roderick Demmings, director of choral music at Vespers  on Dec. 4, 2022 at NMH.

Demmings is an award-winning pianist and organist who came to NMH this fall after spending a decade as a performing musician touring the world. He is a graduate of the Peabody Conservatory of the Johns Hopkins University and has toured the United States, Africa, and Europe, including the Vatican. 

Demmings said he approached Vespers by being mindful of traditions that the audience has come to expect, while also hoping to infuse something new into the service.

“There are certain things we do in Vespers that we always do, and I wanted to be careful that we did those right,” he said. “But I also wanted to provide another take on what Vespers could be. So we have a rockin’ gospel song — ‘Greatest Gift’ by Shona English — to encourage others by showing that our repertoire is diverse in the choral department.”

Vespers 2022.

Demmings is an ardent advocate for social justice who founded #BlackMusicMatters, an ensemble for singers and instrumentalists aimed at empowering and healing through Black music. He hopes to inspire more students of color, particularly Black and Latino students, to join NMH’s choral groups. One of the reasons he came to NMH, he said, was to share with young people how music has the power to inspire. 

“In my concerts, I watched people transform because of the music, by its message,” he said. “As a touring performer, I would pop up in people’s lives for an hour and 30 and then disappear. I wanted to be able to inspire folks on a regular basis. I wanted to do that in a way that was a lot more organized and a lot more consistent.”

Student musician Delphi Lyra ’24, who plays the violin in the Chamber Orchestra, said Vespers is her favorite event of the school year.

“I love the music we play and spending time together in the chapel,” she said. “I love the ceremony. I think it's beautiful.”

The choir’s performance of “Greatest Gift,” Lyra added, “really stole the whole show — it was amazing! It was a really wonderful moment that made a deep impression on me — a merging of old and new.”

Vespers 2022.

Watching Vespers for the first time, NMH senior Alejandra Metz said hearing “Angels We Have Heard on High,” a traditional French carol, brought back memories of singing in her hometown church choir in the Dominican Republic.

“But the gospel song really stood out for me,” she said. “Everything was beautiful, but that piece was different. It has the same message as many of the other songs but shared it in a really energizing way.”

In keeping with tradition, the last piece performed during Vespers was “Stille Nacht,” an Austrian carol (the English version is “Silent Night”), sung a cappella, lights in the chapel lowered, while students snuffed out the candles one by one.

Each year, Vespers is held off campus as well, alternating between Boston and New York City. On Dec. 16, off-campus Vespers will be held at Emmanuel Church in Boston. Learn more and register to attend

See photos of Vespers.

Watch a video of the performance of “Greatest Gift.”

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