Typically, these discussions every summer are about new musical arrangements, how to surprise the audience, whether or not we can get our hands on a working snow machine, and how to best feature our current students’ talents. It usually takes several meetings over several months before a “rough draft” of a show order is created.
But, in May 2022, as the Lead Creative Team (a group of insanely creative alumni staff members in ASOTA) met on the second floor of Martin Hall, the show came together more quickly than ever before. We asked: How do you best celebrate 20 years of Christmas Spectacular? The answer was obvious: You bring back as many favorite moments as possible – and you bring back some of the people who made those moments extra special!
From Then to Now
I first stepped on the Christmas Spectacular stage at Dauphin Way Baptist Church as a student in 2006. It was the third year of Christmas Spec. There was only one rehearsal, the soloists stood in front of the conductor, there were minimal lights, no stage managers, one audio technician and a lot of nervous college students. Yet still, some of my fondest moments of college were during that week before Thanksgiving every year.
Since then, Christmas Spectacular has grown into an event that churches across the southeast bus members of their congregation to see every year. More than 8,000 people overall attend multi-night performances at Cottage Hill Baptist Church that are also livestreamed. Families around the globe watch on DAYSTAR. In fact, one graduate student in our program right now found out about the University of Mobile because she watched Christmas Spectacular on TV every year with her family in Puerto Rico!
Christmas Spec 2022
Approximately 25-30 Production Technology students work tirelessly behind the scenes and about 200 music students are involved each year in Christmas Spec, now presented at Cottage Hill Baptist Church. The live production signals the end of Fall Semester. During the following Spring Semester, Production Technology students gain hands-on experience editing footage for the Christmas Spectacular DVD.
We could guestimate that over 2,500 students have participated in Christmas Spectacular since 2003. It is truly outstanding.
In addition to current ASOTA students, faculty and staff, 32 alumni returned to the Christmas Spectacular stage for the 20th Anniversary. There were orchestra players, technicians and featured soloists. Among them was Dr. Tinsley Griffin Hill ’16, a clogging Celtic violinist whose talents inspired the first all-girls Celtic ensemble “Welsh Revival.” Several former Welsh Revival members joined Tinsley and our current students on stage for every performance to celebrate the wonderful legacy of this favorite UM ensemble. (See TorchLight Extra for Tinsley’s story.)
A Powerful Message
“I believe in a cross, I believe He came for one, He came for all” are the lyrics to the song “I Believe” which first graced the Christmas Spectacular stage in 2008, sung by Maggie Woodlief Curry ’10. Since then, it has been one of the final songs presented every year and truly encapsulates the heartbeat of our students, the program and our university. For the 20th Anniversary, different alumnae joined the University Singers and Orchestra each evening to present this powerful message. Hannah Clardy ’19 sang on Thursday, Maggie Curry sang on Friday, Anna Sailors Pinkham ’15 sang on Saturday and Kirsten Phillips ’17 sang on Sunday.
Additional alumni moments included Zane Duke ’21 singing “Frosty the Bluesman” with the Jazz Band; Garrett Romine ’18 and Abbie Maggio ’18 singing “Light Has Come,” a UM original song; and Tyler Allen and Chris Jenkins ’18 presenting the gospel song, “Infant Lowly.”
In addition to alumni-featured moments, current students performed songs from previous years. “That was the song we sang!” was a popular phrase for many former students in the audience.
The 20th Anniversary of Christmas Spectacular gave Alabama School of the Arts students, faculty, staff and alumni an opportunity to celebrate all that God has allowed us to do in the 20 years of presenting this favored event. It also provided an opportunity to honor Dr. Al Miller, retiring dean of
ASOTA, for his vision, leadership and service to UM over the past two decades. Christmas Spectacular was birthed because he and Dr. Roger Breland, dean emeritus, took steps of faith in 2003.
The hardest part about planning the 20th Anniversary program was narrowing down the massive song list of “favorite songs.” The program was jam-packed full of “favorite” moments and songs. We knew it was going to be a good program (and it was!) but we didn’t know the most memorable thing about the 20th Anniversary of Christmas Spectacular would be the prayer rooms.
“Prayer Room” is the time our students focus their hearts on Christ through prayer, worship and a shared word. Prayer Rooms happen every single weekend, an hour before our ensembles step foot on the platforms in churches across the nation. Prayer Rooms happen before our largest and smallest of productions on campus, in the community and on the road.
The Prayer Rooms for Christmas Spectacular were mostly led by alumni who came back to share powerful words with our current students and lead them in times of worship. Several students shared with me: “If all we did for Christmas Spectacular was participate in the Prayer Rooms, that would have been enough.” God truly moved in a powerful way each night, uniting the hearts of our students on the ONE purpose we do what we do: to bring honor and glory to our heavenly Father.
After the last performance of Christmas Spectacular, one of the alumni we invited back looked at me with tears in her eyes and said, “I really needed this. You have no idea how badly I needed this.”
What I didn’t tell her then was that I needed it, too. I needed to be reminded of God’s faithfulness and I needed to be reminded WHY it is so very special to work at the University of Mobile.
It was quite overwhelming emotionally to see just how impactful our alumni are in ministry, education, business, parenthood and the professional world. It is equally overwhelming to consider we have a new crop of gifted and talented students who choose UM and ASOTA every single year who are being prepared to go on mission for Jesus after graduation!
It is truly spectacular.