Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols in Medina is break from commercialism of holiday season

By Ginny Kropf, correspondent Posted 19 December 2019 at 7:48 am

Photos by Tom Rivers: St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Medina is shown on Dec. 21, 2014 during the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. The service will be held again this Saturday at St. Mary’s.

MEDINA – It was 10 years ago when Aaron Grabowski, music director of Holy Trinity Parish (St. Mary’s Church), decided something was badly needed to draw the community together at the joyful and spiritual season of Christmas – something to celebrate the true meaning of the season and bring people back from the brink of rampant commercialism.

So began what has become a growing and cherished annual tradition in Medina, a “Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.”

“As I’ve said many times in the past, I think people are hungry for this kind of spiritual respite at Christmastime, and more so with each passing year,” Grabowski said. “In a restless world, this evening of Christmas music and scripture brings a measure of peace and hope. I know for many, it annually revives the true spirit of the season. It does for me, too. That’s why we continue to do it.”

The festival, first held on Christmas Eve in 1918 in King’s College Chapel, Cambridge, England, is a liturgical program consisting of nine Scriptural readings telling the story of the birth of the Messiah, Grabowski explained. The program is also interspersed with seasonal choral music. Over the past 100 years, it has become much beloved world-wide and is celebrated in thousands of parishes around the globe at Christmastime.

Provided photo: Aaron Grabowski, organist at St. Mary’s Church in Medina, will play the church’s historic organ at the 11th annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.

The local ecumenical event has been hosted by Holy Trinity Parish for the last 10 years at Medina’s historic St. Mary’s Church. This year’s event will take place at 7 p.m. on Dec. 21, with a prelude at 6:30 p.m., featuring the pipe organ, string quartet and harpsichord.

This year, as every year, a free will offering will benefit the community food pantry at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.

“Every year, the need is especially great at community food pantries during Christmastime,” Grabowski said. “The generosity of those who attend Lessons and Carols greatly helps to replenish food stocks that sustain those in need. Again, Lessons and Carols helps us to open our hearts and live the true meaning of Christmas.”

Helping people to regain the spirit of Christmas through scripture and music is the goal of the event, said Chris Busch, president of Orleans Renaissance Group, which supports the concert.

“This year’s musical offerings promise to fill the hearts of all in attendance with the joy of the season,” Busch said.

The 2019 Festival Choir will once again feature voices from the Genesee Chorale – 16 in all. The Batavia-based Chorale under the director of Ric Jones of Medina, is widely known across Western New York. The choir will be accompanied by the massive pipe organ in St. Mary’s, along with the Greycliffe String Quartet, a Buffalo-based string ensemble under the direction of Paul-Joseph Struckmann.

The quartet will also be featured during the prelude with two selections, “Riu Riu Chiu,” arranged by Marshall Fine, and movements “Sarabanda and Giga” from the “Violin Sonata in D Minor, Op. 5 No. 7 for Violin and Harpsichord” by Arcangelo Corelli.

St. Mary’s Church in Medina will host the 11th annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. The event is free, but a free will offering benefits the community food pantry at St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church.

Music selections this year include “Once in Royal David’s City,” “Past Three O’Clock,” “The Lord at First Did Adam Make,” “The Holly and the Ivy,” “O Come, O Come Emmanuel,” “Low, How a Rose E’er Blooming,” “What Sweeter Music,” “A Maiden Most Gentle,” “How Far is it to Bethlehem,” “Gesu Bambino,” “While Shepherds Watched their Flocks,” “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen,” “All Bells in Paradise,” “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing.”

In addition to the Greycliffe String Quartet, the prelude will feature three selections by Grabowski on the pipe organ, a harpsichord selection by Grabowski and two movements by Struckman on the violin and Grabowski on the harpsichord.

Scripture readers for the event include Ryder Jones from St. Peter’s Evangelical Church, Sophia Goyette from Holy Trinity Parish, Patricia Worrad from St. John’s Episcopal Church, Marc Smith from St. John’s Parish in Lockport, Regina Simon from Our Lady of the Lake Parish in Lyndonville, David Schubel from Trinity Lutheran Parish in Medina, James Punch from Holy Trinity Parish, Vicar Rick Mollenkopf-Grill from St. Peter’s Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Rev. Bernard U. Nowak, pastor of Holy Trinity Parish.

The event is family friendly, open to all and free of charge, Busch added.

Refreshments will be served at the conclusion of the concert.

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