Music celebrating Jesus' birth brings community together

WOODBRIDGE, Conn. — The fruits of a missionary effort that began 10 years ago was evident this year when non-members outnumbered the members who attended the New Haven Connecticut Stake annual Christmas concert Dec. 4-5.

Many residents in central Connecticut say they look forward to the stake's production of "A Musical Celebration of the Birth of Jesus Christ."

"We've improved every year," said Mary Seeley, director of the choir. "Year after year the choir comes together more quickly. We are blessed with good singers in each section. The hard work of 10 years was evident this year."

The stake Christmas concert began in 1988 as a means of helping residents of the Fairfield, Litchfield and New Haven counties, which comprise the stake, add spirituality to their celebrations.

This year, the concert was performed in two locations, in Southbury on Dec. 4 where an estimated 250 attended, and in Woodbridge on Dec. 5 where an estimated 600 attended.

"We are fortunate to have a stake presidency that supports such an endeavor. Each member of the presidency has sung in the choir," Sister Seeley said, including her husband, Robert, who serves as stake president and sings tenor.

The concert showcases stake members in choir, chamber and solo performances and includes a variety of music composed by major composers.

Several stake members performed solos, including Markell Fluckiger, bishop of the Southbury Ward, who sang "A Prophet's Prayer" that he composed.

"One lady sitting behind me was just amazed that our bishop not only had a beautiful voice, but that, with his obligations and career as a corporate lawyer, had time to sing music he composed," said Mary Voss, public affairs director of the Southbury Ward.

"It is a lot of hard work to bring a diverse group such as this together," continued Sister Seeley, who earned bachelor and master's degrees in flute performance and has studied chorale conducting in graduate courses.

Among the 65 choir members was a non-member of the Church who has sung with the choir for seven years. "I have always felt like a special guest when I participated with the Mormon choir," she said. "This year I was asked to be one of the special small group soloists. I now really feel like this is my choir too."

Several years ago, this non-member was recovering from a serious operation and was unable to attend rehearsals, which threatened her opportunity to sing. To help her prepare, members of the choir prepared rehearsal tapes for her to practice while convalescing.

"Preparing for the Christmas concert was the single most important help in mental and physical recovery for me," she said.

This was the first year Dean Taylor of the Woodbridge Ward participated in the choir. "I marveled at the great missionary experience it was for me," he said. "Eight friends, neighors and co-workers came to the concert and thoroughly enjoyed it. A neighbor remarked how 'good and wholesome' all the people were."

"The choir was in top form and we had more non-members attending than members," said George Isaacs, a ward mission leader in the New Haven stake.

The concert has proven to be a blessing for the stake as well. "It helps us focus and brings us together as a stake," Sister Seeley observed. "We couldn't do this without the help of the Lord, who has always been a part of our concerts. I feel we've all been blessed." — Shaun D. Stahle

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