Singing and Dancing for the Season

Singing and Dancing for the Season

BC faculty and staff find joy and fulfillment in holiday performances

Megan Carroll Shea has seen the annual performances of "A Dancer's Christmas" from almost every possible vantage point: performer, audience member, administrator, and "Stage Mom."

The part-time Carroll School of Management faculty member says she never tires of the Boston Liturgical Dance Ensemble's holiday presentation that opens tonight in Robsham Theater for its 22nd year [see]. "It's a beautiful, beautiful work. Once you see it, you'll never forget it."

Development Office staffer Yvonne Kelley (center) shares some light moments with fellow members of the University Chorale of Boston College prior to their annual Christmas concert last Saturday in Trinity Chapel on Newton Campus. (L-R) Sarah Mack '03, Kristin Yette '06, Paul Schuler '05, Danielle Oliari '03 and Liz Paulhus '04. "I just can't imagine Christmas without being in the Chorale," says Kelley, the group's faculty advisor. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)
Yvonne Kelley has only been singing with them for three years, but the University Chorale of Boston College has already become an integral part of her life, especially at this time of the year.

"I just can't imagine Christmas without being in the Chorale," said Kelley, who is administrative secretary to the associate vice president for capital giving in the Development Office. She performed with the group at their annual holiday concert this past weekend in Trinity Chapel on Newton Campus.

"The concert is so full of life, so full of warmth, and something special always seems to happen. Last year, while we're in the middle of 'Silent Night,' I happened to look out the window and I could see snow just starting to fall.

"It's something that leaves you with that wonderful, old-fashioned feeling about Christmas you had as a child," said Kelley, who serves as faculty advisor for the Chorale.

December is a joyous time for Kelley, Shea and other Boston College employees who take part in holiday performances on campus or elsewhere. The opportunity to sing "The Messiah," or to dance - even while six months pregnant - in a hallowed BC Christmas tradition enhances their celebration of faith, family and friendship, say these faculty and staff members.

"Music, both vocal and instrumental, moves my spirit," said Tracy Ryan, associate director for operations and systems in the Budget Office, who sings with the choir at St. Ignatius Church during Advent. "It excites me when I need uplifting and soothes me when I need calming. The joy I receive when I sing is so powerful I can only describe it as transcending.

"Singing during the Christmas season is special because it provides unique opportunities to share the wonderful messages and prayerfulness of the music in an atmosphere of warmth and openness."

For Asst. Prof. Ekaterina Haskins (Communication), performing Russian liturgical and folk music with the Andrei Rublev Choir, the Slavic and Eastern Languages Department's a cappella group, is especially meaningful.

"This holiday season, as the year before, we will participate in a liturgy dedicated to St. Nicholas at St. Mary's Chapel," she said. "It is an exciting ritual that combines different elements of Eastern Catholic, Russian and Greek Orthodox spirituality. I am Russian by birth and upbringing, and music is perhaps the best way to keep alive the ties to my rich cultural tradition and to nourish my spirit."

Kelley, who began singing in grammar school, caught the Chorale bug years ago when she attended their concerts while her son and other family members were BC students. But with membership limited to BC students and employees, Kelley had to content herself with singing in her church choir or at weddings.

A few years ago, however, Kelley found herself contemplating a career change. "One day as I was leaving work, stuck in traffic, thinking 'God, just show me a sign,'" she recalled, "a car pulled in front of me with a bumper sticker that said 'Go BC.' I said, 'That's it!'"

Since she joined the Chorale, Kelley says she has been continually "astonished" by the hard work of director and conductor John Finney, as well as the dedication of the student members. "John is a master at what he does. It's just amazing how he can take this mound of clay and mold it into such a beautiful creation."

Kelley says the holiday concert repertoire, which usually includes "The Hallelujah Chorus" and "Unto Us a Child Is Born" from "The Messiah," is anything but repetitive.

"They may be the same songs, but we don't sing them the same way," she explained. "We carefully pick them apart and practice them until every piece feels new. There'll be a note that's held longer or clipped shorter, or has a different feel to it. That's why you really need to be there for the rehearsals; you can't just wing it."

Shea, a 1989 alumna who earned a degree from BC Law in 1992, said her first encounter with the dance production came during her freshman year at BC when she half-heartedly - and unsuccessfully - auditioned for a part. "I guess I wasn't mature enough back then to realize just how great it was," recalled Shea. "When I was a senior, I sat in the audience and cried and asked myself, 'Why aren't I in this?'"

After finishing law school, Shea reapplied to the cast, and has been with the holiday troupe in a variety of roles for the past nine years.

Shea says her most memorable performance may have been four years ago. "I was six months pregnant at the time, playing the part of Elizabeth, the sister of Mary. Elizabeth gave birth to John the Baptist, so I knew that it would be fitting to call our new son by the same name. We called him Eoin, which is Gaelic for John."

Eoin, now three years old, and sister Aisling, 5, both had the role of the Infant Jesus in "Dancer's Christmas" when they were babies. Both youngsters currently perform in the children's dance company.

Shea, who still dances in the holiday show, also handled legal affairs for the ensemble during its 20th anniversary fund-raising drive. She credits the show's creator and director, Rev. Robert VerEecke, SJ, for his innovations.

"Every year, he adds new pieces to freshen the performance," Shea said Fr. VerEecke, who is pastor of St. Ignatius Church.

"I have had friends from all religious backgrounds come to the performances and they all end up crying," she said. "They all tell me they had no idea that liturgical dance could be that beautiful."

-Sean Smith, Reid Oslin and Mark Sullivan


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