The Hendrix Choir’s Candlelight services mark the beginning of the holiday season on campus. Since tickets are free and the services fall the weekend before the stress of final exams begin, it is a popular event for students, faculty, staff, locals, and alumni alike. This year’s services run from November 30th to December 3rd. Each night of the Candlelight service typically draws upwards of 300 people, with many without tickets showing up to try to land a last-minute spot. What some may not realize, however, is how long the tradition has existed at Hendrix.
According to Choir Director Dr. Andrew Morgan, the first ever Hendrix Candlelight Service was in 1963. Since its inception, Candlelight has only not occurred one time. This year marks the 54th Candlelight and the fourth for Dr. Morgan. Although many traditions have remained in Candlelight, the service has changed since its early years.
“When I was looking at the programs, over the years, it had reached the current model we use by sometime in the 1970’s,” Dr. Morgan said.
Hendrix’s format for Candlelight is not original, but rather based on a famous service done on Christmas Eve at King’s College in England.
“The model that we use now is based almost exactly on the form of service that they use at King’s College and that format, which we call ‘lessons and carols’ has its roots even a little bit older than that from the early 20th century at a cathedral in Southwestern England called Trury Cathedral,”
The lessons and carols format that Hendrx uses features the alternation of song and scripture. While the nine lessons have stayed the same, the songs between them have changed every year. One song, however, is a staple of the Candlelight Service. Each service starts Always start with a processional featuring the hymn “Once in Royal David’s City” with an alto or soprano soloist singing the first verse.
There are also new traditions in the Candlelight service. Dr. Morgan created a song competition in order to commission a new piece for the service each year:
“Before I came to Hendrix I was doing some research about lessons and carols and I had read through a number of the programs that they print at King’s College and they do a commissioned piece every year…I was discussing this with one of my graduate school teachers and I said it would be really cool if we could do some of those original pieces that they had done at King’s College and perform them here. He said if you’re going to do one of their commissioned pieces then why don’t you commission your own.”
The process by which a winning song is chosen includes a committee of judges: Dr. Morgan, Dr. Karen Griebling, a student music major, and two choral conductors from other colleges or universities. According to Dr. Morgan, this is a good way for other schools around the country to learn about Hendrix and its choir department. In its first year, there were 85 submissions to the competition, and this year there were 65. Composers from all over the world have submitted their work.
Another tradition that has changed in recent years is the annual Candlelight Carol Service tour. After finals are over and winter break has begun, the choir travels to different churches in Arkansas and occasionally nearby states to perform for a different community. The touring of Candlelight began long before Dr. Morgan, and has lessened in recent years. It used to be four performances total, with two per day, and has dropped to two performances in total in two locations.
“Being on the road with everyone is fun and there is always a lot of comradery and bonding,” Dr. Morgan said.
Despite changes made in Candlelight over the years, Dr. Morgan argues that there’s a lot of value in the Candlelight traditions.
“As much as I like to try new things I also really respect the fact that older traditions hold a lot of weight and value for people,” he said.
Candlelight is a huge event for alumni, and a substantial point of connection for the Alumni Office. The Sunday service (December 3rd) is typically the day in which the most alumni and donors come. Anywhere from one half to two thirds of the audience on Sundays are alumni or people with significant financial connections to the college.
Mary Ann Dawkins, who was neither an alumni nor former faculty member, came to a Candlelight Service and then began to attend the services annually. She started to make financial contributions to the college. She mentioned Hendrix in her trust and will, which lead to a $23 million donation to Hendrix in her name. These funds allowed Hendrix to build the new Dawkins Welcome Center, which is named after her and her husband, Richard Dawkins.
Despite being in Greene Chapel, a relatively small space, many people are touched by Candlelight each year. Anywhere between 1000 to 1200 people attend the services throughout its 4-day run.
“People like pageantry and there’s definitely a ceremonial aspect to it that’s very special,” Dr. Morgan said.
Candlelight draws a crowd from both the Conway community and elsewhere in Arkansas, perhaps because of the place it holds in so many hearts.
“To do it at the very beginning of the holiday season is a really powerful way to get people thinking about the Holidays and Christmas,” Dr. Morgan said.