It is tradition at Goshen College that the first weekend of December, when students are just starting to go crazy from post-Thanksgiving, pre-finals stress, A Festival of Carols comes along, filling the time and hearts of many.

A truly collaborative event, Festival of Carols involves almost all of GC’s major music ensembles: Women’s World Music Choir, Men’s Choir, Chamber choir, Symphonic Orchestra, All-Campus Band, a brass ensemble, as well as the community children’s choir, Shout For Joy.

An event that spans over 5 days and logs a combined 1000 hours in preparation, production and post-production (not including unpaid ensemble members), Festival of Carols is a major undertaking for much of the GC community. FiveCore Media, Goshen’s educational film production business, films Festival of Carols from 9 different angles and edits the performances into one cohesive show that is then shown on local television programs. FiveCore has won 2 regional Emmys for past Festival of Carols productions.

ITS Media manages the livestream and runs sound, and the Performing Venues staff manages the house and stage, runs lights, as well as sets up and tears down the extensive Christmas decorations.

As an annual event, it is easy for memories to run into one another until participants are left with one generic memory of Festival of Carols. But each Festival of Carols has a unique story.

A Festival of Carols was the brainchild of former assistant music professor, Jim Heiks, who had developed a similar non-stop flowing Christmas program when he directed a high school choir in Appleton, WI. According to music professor Deb Brubaker, Heiks “envisioned ‘miles of headlights’ coming down the highway to see the show, like in the movie about baseball starring Kevin Costner – ‘If you build it, they will come.’ Jim Heiks wasn’t far off in his estimation.”

And thus, in December of 2004, a year after the Music Center was built, the first A Festival of Carols was born.

There is no doubt that each year Festival of Carols features beautiful musical moments full of Christmas cheer, but over the years, there have been a few especially memorable moments.

Associate professor of music and choir conductor, Scott Hochstetler remembers one particular concert that had a bit more flare than he would have liked. “We hired a trumpet player to play a difficult trumpet part in a mass piece called “A Chanticleer’s Carol” by Conrad Susa. On the very last chord, he decided to interpolate a high C that wasn’t written. Needless to say, all you could hear was massive trumpet sound, obliterating the rest of the orchestra and all the singers behind him. We made sure he played the part as is for the rest of the shows!”

If there is a cliché story of a Festival of Carols performance going awry, it would be the story of the bat. In 2006, Brian Mast had just been hired as the Performing Venues Manager, and he recalls the story with fond recollection. During the performance “a bat started flying- it was dive-bombing choir members in the choral terrace and it was flying all over. It was amazing …we stopped the show, and [Brian Weibe, then director of the Music Center] came out to the microphone and said, ‘You may have noticed our bird friend,’… he totally lied so that people didn’t freak out about the bat. So we put the doors open, to let it fly out.” After the concert Mast took a lift up to a speaker (about 30 feet in the air) where the bat was sleeping and caught it in a makeshift net. The debacle involved a lot of screaming by Mast and the entire ordeal was caught on tape since the cameras were still rolling. If you have interest in watching this process, there is a extra short on the 2006 Festival of Carols DVD that follows the capturing of the bat.

This year’s performances will be on Dec. 2nd, 3rd and 4th (Friday, Saturday and Sunday) at 8:00 p.m. on Friday and Saturday and 4:00 p.m. on Sunday. If you aren’t one of the 100 plus students involved in this production, you can get your $3 student tickets for the Friday performance from the Welcome Center. Otherwise tickets are $15 and can be purchased from the Welcome Center. The performance from 2015 will be aired on Christmas day on WTIU, KPTS 8, WNIT, Lakeshore Public Television, and WIPB-TV, while this year’s program will be aired next Christmas.

Who knows what kind of memories will be made this year!