For nearly 70 years, the local holiday season was heralded by Staples’ Candlelight Concert.
Founded in 1940 by legendary music maestro John Ohanian, it’s survived wars (both military and cultural), changes in education, and the school’s move from Riverside Avenue to North Avenue.
Sure, a couple of decades ago, the band joined the choir and orchestra onstage. But the concert may still be the only place in the world the haunting and obscure “Sing We Noel” processional can be heard these days.
Yet now the Candlelight Concert is starting to fade away.
Last year the long-standing performance schedule — Friday night at 7 p.m., Saturday at 7 and 9:30 — was changed. The 1st Saturday show was moved 5 hours earlier — t0 2 p.m. The evening performance began at 8 p.m.
The same times are set for this year.
The idea was to provide more opportunities for parents for young children, and senior citizens.
That’s commendable. But it misses the mark.
Young kids are not the target audience. And seniors could be served by a dress rehearsal on Friday afternoon — an idea the music teachers favor.
The final Saturday show has always been the most festive — high-energy, emotional, a true kickoff to the holiday season. It’s been something Staples musicians look forward to their entire high school careers — because the seats are filled with alumni. All are invited on stage for a rousing finale: the “Hallelujah Chorus.”
Alums — off in college, or no longer in town but back for the holidays — know there will be seats available at that final show. They don’t get them ahead of time, as concert-goers do for the other ones.
The new schedule — with 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. shows — means that hundreds of musicians spend an entire Saturday, right before the holidays, backstage or onstage. That’s a lot to ask.
Then there’s the ambience. “How can you have a Candlelight concert when there’s sunlight streaming in the back door?” one frustrated performer asks.
Some traditions change. Some are worth saving.
For 7 decades the Candlelight Concert — twice on Saturday night — was one of the best.