By Justin Murph-Mancini, Director of Church Music

Tis the season! Though the Christmas creep continues to saturate the airwaves with Christmas carols earlier and earlier, it is not too early to begin preparing for the annual Candlelight Service. This year, we celebrate the 94th anniversary of this time-honored Newburyport tradition, now under the auspices of Director of Church Music Justin Murphy-Mancini and Rev. Rebecca Bryan. Rehearsals for the Candlelight Chorale begin on Sunday, November 3, Parish Hall, 2nd floor, 1:30pm.

The tradition began in 1925 when Rev. Laurence Hayward instituted a Christmastime service inspired by the newly popular “Lessons and Carols” developed at King’s College, Cambridge. This service included choral anthems, congregational songs, and readings that tell the story of Christmas. Over the years, the First Religious Society has developed its own “take” on these elements; for decades, the presence of a brass ensemble has been a staple, and for many years there was a string ensemble that played Baroque concertos. In her history of the Candlelight Service, former Director of Church Music Barbara Owen writes, “While music of English, French, and German origin will always hold an important place in any Christmas observance…we have always made a point of including some American music in each years Candlelight Service.”

This year, the Candlelight Service will emphasize the monthly theme of “Joy.” The Young Church and Teen Choirs will join the Candlelight Chorale, brass quintet, and organ for selections that span both style and time period. Inspired by Barbara Owens example, Justin has selected an early American carol from the shape-note tradition as well as a recent piece by Caroline Mallonée written for Prairie Home Companion in 2012. Music from traditional sources include the sumptuous “Duo Seraphim” of baroque composer Samuel Scheidt, the medieval carol “Angelus ad virginem,” and Harold Darke’s arrangement of “The Holly and the Ivy.” Fresh imaginings of traditional inspirations will be found in Eleanor Daley’s “Bethlehem’s Star” and John Gardner’s “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.” 


The Candlelight Service is one of FRS’s longest continuously running traditions, and it requires everyone’s enthusiasm to remain vital and engaging into its second century. Singers are strongly encouraged to join the Candlelight Chorale; this is a great opportunity if you have been interested in choral singing but are unsure about the commitment to the regular Adult Choir. This choir is also open to members of the wider Newburyport community, so if you know a singer who might be interested, please share this opportunity with them! Finally, we need everyone’s voice for the congregational singing, so please mark your calendars for this beautiful event. The Candlelight Service will take place on Sunday, December 22 at 7:15pm, with a brass prelude beginning at 7pm. Hope to see you there! 



Always in Parish Hall, 2nd Floor 


Nov 3, 10, 17, 24 

Dec 1, 8, 15, 21 (Saturday) 

Contact Justin.

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