As the crowd filed in to the Truman Arnold Center close to the 7pm mark on Friday, December 1, 2017, the piano sang out with tunes from the Christmas season to set the mood for the evening.
Just moments later, Mary Ellen Young, Dean of the Humanities Department at Texarkana College welcomed the “standing-room only” crowd to Yulefest. The crowd consisted of parents, friends and music enthusiast and of course the members of the four different choirs themselves.
Schools represented at the event were Arkansas High School, Liberty-Eylau High School, Veritas Academy and Texarkana College. Members of the Texarkana Regional Chorale also participated and there was a surprise performance from a former TC student.
Marc-Andre Bougie, professor of music at Texarkana College, was animated when talking about this long time Texarkana College tradition. “I look forward to Yulefest every year because it is the kick-off to the Christmas season for me,” Bougie explained. “Having all of the choirs sing together is a real joy to hear.”
One of the choirs that participated this year and for the past eight years was Veritas Academy Singers under the direction of Stephanie House.
“Preparing my choir to sing at Yulefest has become a tradition for Veritas,” House said. “It’s important and beneficial for the students to be out in the community sharing what they have prepared. It’s also good for students to experience what it’s like to work with a different director like Mr Bougie and stretch out of their comfort zones as they sing with even more voices.”
The unique quality about the Veritas Academy Singers is they use every student in their chorus, unlike other schools who have select voices from their student body.
Chuck Richardson, who participated as a choir member this year, explained went the event started. “I’ve been to Yulefest since the beginning under the direction of Murray Alewine in the late 1980s. So it’s been going about 30 years,” Richardson remembered. “At the beginning, it was only the Texarkana College choir that presented. I enjoy hearing from other schools during this event now.”
Texarkana College voices joined with Texarkana Regional Chorale to begin the evening under the direction of Bougie and accompanied by Mary Scott Goode. The group sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” to a standing audience and then finished with the Texarkana College Anthem.
Arkansas High Choir, under the direction of Andrea Finley and accompanied by Vicki Al-Dubais, sang two selections: “The Shepards’ Carol” and “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” A first for Yulefest this year was the addition of a string quartet from the school’s orchestra.
A TC Alumnus, Ms Xing Xing Yu, then wowed the crowd with her rendition of Panis Angelicus while Bougie accompanied her on the piano.
Veritas Academy, under the direction of House and accompanied by Shelly Brown, then took the risers to perform three selections: “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing”, “Moonlight on the Manger” and “Sing We Now of Christmas”
The choirs then combined, joined with the Liberty-Eylau choir, to sing three selections: “Gloria” by FJ Hayden, “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring” by Bach, and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” While the choirs were assembling, Bougie took a moment to tell the crowd that several members of the group will travel to New York City in the spring and sing together again at Carnegie Hall. This is both an honor and a wonderful experience for all those involved.
The evening rounded out with the choir members surrounding the room and the audience joining in a sing-along. Songs included Deck the Halls, Jingle Bells, Silent Night and Joy to the World. The audience was very appreciative at the conclusion of the performance.
If you missed Yulefest this year, CDs of the performance, previously recorded, can be purchased from the Texarkana College Music Department for only $5.