Candlelight By Day

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.

Alumni -- like these choir members from 1979 -- attend the Candlelight Concert every year.

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.

31 responses to “Candlelight By Day

  1. Native New Englander

    Hear, hear!! Keep the tradition!

  2. Nancy Powers Conklin

    When I was in Sophomore Chorus and Girls’ Glee (no longer called by that name), there were two concerts on Friday night, 7:00 & 9:30pm and two on Saturday night, same times as Friday! There was such a huge population in the school, with only three grades, (10th, 11th & 12th), the singing groups, were divided and only had to perform on one of the two nights. That did not count the Choir which performed each night. Or course, if you wanted to perform during all concert times, that was ok too! Now, that was dedication and really made the final 9:30pm performance on Saturday, extra special for the seniors and alumni who attended.

  3. It has to be Saturday night!

  4. The kids ruined it for themselves by getting drunk between the 7 and 930 shows. This is the true reason for the change in schedule.

  5. And now they won’t be able to get drunk before the 8 p.m. show?

  6. Richard Lawrence Stein

    By no means is getting drunk a smart thing as a participant of any school activity, but it has gone on for generations…. That is truly a poor excuse to alter the tradition and the extra energy that performing that last concert has held for decades. As Dan has said, why can’t the kids drink between the two shows or even have a bloody Mary or mimosa tailgate brunch for the 2pm show… You are not going to stop drinking just look at prohibition…

    • I was kidding…

    • If we are talking about the students, RLS, then it is illegal. It certainly should and can be stopped on campus. This attitude of “it has gone for generations” is a poor excuse if not negligence per se. The debacle at Homecoming two years ago (when 6 gals were so drunk they had to be taken to the hospital) was handled much the same way: change the time. If a zero tolerance policy is implemented i.e you are suspended for a semester if you are deemed drunk ever on campus, the stupidity will end. Apparently we don’t have that kind of leadership at Staples.

      • Everyone talks tough until it is their kid.

        • True but our neighbor’s kid learned the hard way. Drank at Staples. Got booted out of Miami of Ohio first semester for underage drinking. Looking the other way is hardly educational.

          • Richard Lawrence Stein

            Look I know Dan was kidding and I was making the pointvthat there will always be bad and dare I say stupid kids who are just bad, poor, and stupid decision makers… Heck we have adults like this too but we call them politicians and other prominent jobs…. The answer is not changing the time it’s being proactive to the problem.

            • The Dude Abides

              We used to go to Vista or Port Chester and get slightly hammered at lunch time and return to Staples like hotshots. One kid turned over a TR-6 coming down the hill to the parking lot. It was well accepted and overlooked by the administration with little consequences. Two years later, I drove a Nash Ramblier through my college quadrangle drunk as hell and nearly maimed an assistant dean with his poodle, Fluffy. Then, I learned. 6 years of my life including a tour of ‘Nam. Not worth it and certainly learning the hard way. Apparently not much has changed in 45 years????

  7. I think the rationale was that there is now so much time between the two Saturday shows that the kids have go home, making it more difficult/less appealing to pre-game (or pre-concert, as the case may be).

    I also have to say that last year’s show, while musically proficient, lacked spirit or something. When we used to attend in the 90s, the students put together really clever, topical final acts, and seemed a lot more happy to be there.

  8. Drinking between shows at Candlelight was the prime reason that the schedule was changed. The previous year someone in the concert passed out and fell over. That was just two months after the EMS had to take drunk students to the hospital from the Homecoming football game. Changing the schedule was a typical overreaction from the administration.(Same as having Homecoming at 10AM) Unfortunately, it won’t stop drinking.

  9. It has to be an “Internal” fix!. Why let a few spoil it for the rest?The truly dedicated and probably more “proficient” will carry the show! Stop the drunks at the door and don’t let them participate! Have a dedicated entrance that only the performers can enter by, have two responsible people(preferably faculty) stand at the door and “Check” the performers as they enter. I know you are not going to get all, but even a few will help, and maybe a few more will get the hint.
    Let the drunks go party their ass off somewhere else and then the rest of us can enjoy one of the best shows ever to “ring” in the Holiday Season!
    If ever I get a chance to be in Westport during the season, you can bet I’ll be up on that stage with the rest of you singing the “Hallelujah Chorus” with all that’s in me!
    John Mingay ’66

  10. John Mingay has the answer to the schedule’s change. As a senior whose children logged 78 years in the Westport school system, I vote for the traditional schedule.

  11. God Bless Ohanian, Genualdi, Hanulik and Weigle!!!!! That they taught in our high school at the same time was truly a blessing to those of us who were there. Their era was truly the golden age of music in the Westport schools.

  12. Carissa Simon Keepin

    I agree Danny. We loved singing two concerts back to back Saturday night. The hush of the crowd as we sang our prelude in the corridor, then the candlelit processional down the aisles of the auditorium with all the lights out….just magnificent! Performances at night with a full house always made we singers feel so important and almost professional.

  13. The Dude Abides

    I wish I could have gotten drunk when my parents dragged me to the performances when I was in junior high, circa early 60’s. Yawn.

  14. Ditto props to Ohanian, Genualdi, Hanulik and Weigle! And to many other unnamed dedicated educators as well (ok, I’ll name a few….Adams, Straub….)…and Gene Bayliss too! These people collectively established something extraordinary with music in the Westport schools. Being given an opportunity to be a part of that tradition felt like an honor, something passed on from each class to the next…it was a feeling that permeated the 4 building from the 1st rehearsals in the Fall and continued to when you put on the robe or sat down in the pit. I know there must be a sense of that pride, even these many years later, and hope the irresponsibility of a few doesn’t make too myopic those given trust today to keep the flame alive.

  15. Randolph Chester

    Much like upcoming Homecoming football game with an early start, drinking seems to affect the Candlelight service. What are they running up there anyhow??

  16. Staples Student

    As a student at Staples and a participant in Candlelight, I feel that the change is not a huge deal. I understand that the later times were traditional and very important to a lot of people, but I felt that musicians and singers were all enthusiastic about playing and singing last year, and that the time change wasn’t a problem at all.

  17. Current Staples Musician

    I played one year in Candlelight with the old schedule, and then it got changed for my junior year. I like the two evening shows better because honestly there is not enough time to go home between the shows, and the energy and atmosphere of Candlelight at night is much more sacred. The processional does not feel the same at 2pm and has a much different effect on the audience. Also, my family sat in on the 2pm show last year and said it was the rudest audience they had ever encountered at any of my concerts… much of that probably has to do with young children. Although drinking is certainly a concern, I think the shows should be moved back to a 7 and 9:30pm schedule for the sake of the music.

  18. In the mid-70s when I first came to stay in Westport, I was told… don’t miss the candlelight concerts at Staples! I was skeptical, but my first one took my breath away. I agree that the two evening concerts work the best. As for a Friday afternoon dress rehearsal, sounds like a nice opportunity for those who do not wish to come out in the evening.

  19. Soprano from class of 72
    They shouldn’t change the tradition. I still remember coming back home and singing the chorus long after graduation-it was very moving. Made you feel still a part of the Staples community. I do like the fri rehearsal-that would be nice for people to be able to attend. But keep the candles burning for Sat. night!

  20. “Seniors”? Like the Staples Class of 2012? Or Medicare-like Seniors, like me? Not to worry; a 9:30PM start on a brisk. starry December night is perfect for everyone.

    By the way, have the dates been set?

  21. I’m a senior (not at Staples, but “over 60”) and I hope that someone with authority to change the schedule is listening to all these pleas. The 7 and 9:30 performances of Candlelight are so special, and last year just wasn’t the same. If they offer the later performances, I am sure the appreciative crowds will come.

  22. Having been a parent of three Staples grads, two of which participated in the choir with Alice Lipson I am more then a little disappointed at the change of times and the dates for the concerts. I have been going to the Candlelight (and dragging my once young children) for close to 20 years and have always appreciated the incredible effort and spirit that the concerts instilled. Having been in choir all through my high school years I couldn’t wait for my kids to participate and to feel the terrific sense of wonder in singing with a group, making beautiful music and entertaining people who appreciate their efforts. All that being said, I have to admit that I was personally unaware that the ‘drinking’ issue was the reason for the time change..though I’m sure there are valid points to support that; what is also frustrating is that the concerts have been scheduled a week earlier then usual, making it virtually impossible for those grad alums that are still in college to return for the show, at whatever time they’re scheduled..something I know many of them relish doing (even I a non-Staples grad, sing the Hallelujah chorus with the alum, since I too sang it in high school). My daughter used to say that Ms. Lipson always told them that the Candlelight would be on the ‘teen’ weekend…so they would remember. This year it’s the week before; any one know the rationale for that??
    Laura Nissim

  23. Like CSM, I am a Staples student who has participated in the Candlelight Concert with both the traditional and new show times. I really feel like the traditional 7 and 9:30 show times create a greater sense of spirit. First of all, although there are no windows in the auditorium, the performers can see the sunlight at 2 pm from backstage, which decreases the intensity of the concert to begin with. Also, although I don’t condone the “pre-gaming” that occurs before the concert, in the 3 years I have been involved, I have never witnessed an issue. I agree that last year’s concert seemed significantly more dull than in the previous years. I believe that it would be in everybody’s best interest to return the Candlelight Concert to the traditional times.

  24. Why don’t you return to the traditional performance times with perhaps a repeat performance closer to the holidays to accomodate returning college alumni and beef up security to eliminate any issue of student alcohol abuse or use???? This is ain’t rocket science but it is administrative enforcement.