A joyful noise

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 10, 2006

By Katie Scarvey

Salisbury Post

In 1988, Rosemary Kinard organized and directed the very first Service of Lessons and Carols at Catawba College.

Kinard, who is director of choral studies and a voice instructor at Catawba College, remembers that year well.

Two choir members fainted because it was hot as blazes in Omwake-Dearborn Chapel.

After the first incident, Karl Kinard, who was director of the St. John’s handbell choir at the time, slipped out and began opening windows.

“I could see him working the cranks,” she says.

The audience cooled down, but the refreshing air didn’t filter up to the choir. Soon, another singer fell out.

“It was very exciting that first year,” Kinard says.

Despite all the drama, Kinard knew the event was a success when after the performance, Jean Wurster, the wife of Dr. Stephen H. Wurster, who was then president of Catawba College, came up to her with tears streaming down her face and thanked Kinard, who was at the time a “lowly first-year staff member,” as she puts it.

Dr. Robert E. Knott, then Catawba’s provost, was a reader that first year. When Knott returned to Catawba College in 2002 to take over as president, he was overwhelmed at how the program had grown.

In 1998, because of overwhelming crowds, a second service was added.

The expansion was extraordinary, Knott says, with 1,500-2,000 people attending over the two nights. Now more than 100 musicians lend their talents to the service.

In large part because of Kinard’s inspired leadership, the service has become a beloved Salisbury tradition, marking, for many, the beginning of the Christmas season.

The service also provides a vital connection between the school and the community.

“For us, it’s just a very important (part) of who we are as a college and what we try to provide the local community,” Knott says.

This year’s Service of Lessons and Carols — the 19th at Catawba — will be Kinard’s last.

The service is based on the traditional Nine Lessons and Carols that originated on Christmas Eve in 1918 at King’s College in Cambridge, England. The service weaves carols of the season with scriptures or lessons relating to the story of Christmas.

Kinard felt that a similar service would work well in Omwake-Dearborn Chapel.

“I loved the lessons and carols concept,” she says. “It’s a marvelous way to bring other people who are not musicians into a service. You don’t have to be a musician to be part of this glorious thing. The people who read the lessons and the liturgists are so vitally important to the concept.”

Readers are chosen from different parts of the college, including administration, faculty, staff and students. The audience also participates, singing several of the carols with the choir each year.

“I’ve had so many people say to me that when they’re in the audience they feel like they are marvelous singers too, whether or not they really are,” Kinard says. “Together, we make this joyful noise that fills up that chapel.”

Over the years, the use of the processional, “Arise, Your Light Has Come” by composer David Danner, has become traditional. It’s considered to be the service’s signature piece, one that musicians and audience members look forward to every year.

The processional features “the ethereal and the grandiose” all in one piece and is very stirring, Kinard says.

Dr. Laurel Eason, an English professor at Catawba who has sung in the service for more than a dozen years, loves the processional so much that she cajoled her daughter into using it in her wedding.

The other musical selections vary from year to year. Kinard’s husband, Karl, who directs the Catawba Handbell Ensemble, often helps with the selections.

Vocal groups participating are the Catawba Singers and Catawba Madrigals, audition-based student groups, and the Catawba Chorale, composed of students, faculty and staff of the college, as well as members of the larger community.

Also participating since 1996 is the St. John’s Men’s Chorus, a group also directed by Kinard. Instrumental groups performing include the Catawba Brass and the Catawba Handbell Ensemble.

The groups rehearse separately, and Kinard pulls them together into a harmonious whole before the public performances.

Eason, who has been singing in the service since 1993, was hooked after participating the first time.

“I thought it was just absolutely wonderful,” she says.

Besides getting to sing beautiful music, she likes the chance to be with students in an informal way outside the classroom.

The cross-generational nature of the experience is also beneficial, she believes, especially since there aren’t many opportunities for people of different ages to interact in a meaningful way.

“I’ve enjoyed working with Rosemary,” she adds. “Her patience with students is just overwhelming, and she’s an excellent musician.”

Dr. Barry Sang, the chair of Catawba’s religion and philosophy department, has sung in the service since 1993.

“Every year has been a gift,” he says.

Kinard has “the very rare and uncanny ability to combine a wealth of musical knowledge and professional expertise with a gracious, caring and joyful spirit,” a combination he describes as “charismatic.”

Kinard is known to have high expectations and to motivate her singers to share them, pulling out the best possible performance.

Her chorus members sometimes joke about The Look she shoots when she hears something amiss.

“She can do more with a stare, or even with a smile, than many conductors can achieve with a tirade of words,” Sang says.

Kinard relishes her role as director.

“I love the feeling that comes from being able to play the marvelous instrument that is the choir,” she says.

“They watch me like hawks and work so hard,” she says, “and they know their efforts will be rewarded by this beautiful sound.”

Things usually go pretty smoothly during performances, thanks to Kinard’s attention to detail. She does remember one year when “in the midst of an exuberant swoop” of her arm, one of her earbobs went flying over the chancel area.

“The men’s chorus nearly all convulsed,” she recalls.

She simply took the other one off and continued.

In the early years of the service, Kinard says she tried to wear pretty shoes, but when she realized her feet were killing her, fashion went by the wayside. She now has some of the many poinsettias decorating the chapel strategically placed so she can slip off her shoes unnoticed if her feet start to hurt.

The physicality of directing is something that most people would not understand, Kinard says. She works hard to pull a performance out of the choir and to do that, she says she “overdramatizes” in rehearsal so her singers will feel free to release their own inner drama and not be embarrassed.

She emphasizes that the service is not a one-woman undertaking. She’s grateful for the support she’s received from the administration and from the music department chairs she’s worked with, including current chair Renee McCachren, as well as administrative assistant RoseAnn Pannell. She’s also had wonderful accompanists over the years, she says.

“There’s an awful lot that goes into Lessons and Carols that I don’t do,” she says. Ultimately, the musicians who sacrifice their time are the ones who make it happen, she says.

She’s also tremendously grateful to her husband Karl, who has given her many creative ideas over the years. He’s also shored her up when she needed it. “Nobody has any clue about how much Karl has done,” she says.

The question on everyone’s mind is whether the tradition will continue without Kinard’s leadership.

Knott says the college plans to have someone else continue the Lessons and Carols legacy.

Kinard is “a wonderful treasure,” Knott says, adding that while someone else will carry the tradition forward, “we will never be able to replace her.”

Whoever follows her, says David Setzer, formerly vice president for communications at Catawba, will have quite a task upholding this great tradition.

“It’s been a pleasure watching it evolve and a pleasure hearing it over the years,” he says.

This year’s service will be bittersweet for Kinard, who will enter phased retirement next academic year after 20 years at Catawba.

“I have loved it so very much,” she says. “It’s been a beautiful and exciting ride.”

Her mother, she says, used to tell her a story about how putting your elbow in a bucket of water displaces the liquid. When you take your arm out, the surface is disturbed, there are ripples, but before too long, those are gone — and then “someone else will put their elbow in the bucket.”

“I think she was trying to tell me that I’m not irreplaceable,” Kinard says, laughing. “We’re all replaceable.”

“I just hope that I will be remembered for bringing a lot of people together to make a lot of beautiful music. That really makes me happier than anything.

“Whether it’s a rehearsal or a performance, if it’s beauty that is being produced, I’m happy.”

Sang says it will be difficult for many in the choir to keep a dry eye this year.

“We know this is not Rosemary’s service; it is a service in God’s service, and she has never let us forget that. But God has worked through her over the years to draw us into a family which she leads with talent and love.

“We thank God for Rosemary Kinard. Her gifts to use will never be lost.”

As she pulls back on her responsibilities, Kinard will continue to teach classes, work with Catawba’s sacred music majors and offer private voice lessons.

And maybe, for a change, add to the joyful noise from a chapel pew.


Contact Katie Scarvey at 704-797-4270 or kscarvey@salisburypost.com.

Service of Lessons and Carols

When: Tuesday and Thursday, Dec. 5 and 7

Where: Omwake-Dearborn Chapel on campus.

Tickets: Free, through the Catawba College development office, 704-637-4394.