Everyone has their favorite Christmas tune, and for Southern University’s director of bands, it’s the Donny Hathaway classic “This Christmas.”
Nathan Haymer so loves the song, he’s added it to the program for the Southern University Wind Ensemble’s fourth annual “Yuletide Gift of the Spirit” concert at 4 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 13.
“I’m keeping it traditional, so we’ll be playing some religious Christmas songs, some fun carols and some feel-good songs,” says Haymer. “But ‘This Christmas’ is my favorite.”
The Wind Ensemble will join the Southern University Concert Choir and Everrett Parker’s Mass Community Choir and Ministers’ Choir in the F.G. Clark Activity Center for the concert, which marks the final event in Southern’s yearlong centennial celebration.
“The students are making a sacrifice this week, because finals are over and school is closed,” Haymer says. “We had to get special permission from university housing for the students to stay on campus, and this cuts into their Christmas break. But they’re staying here so they can perform in this concert.”
Concert Choir Director Charles Lloyd’s students are in the same situation. Though the choir had only 25 members in the fall semester, many of them live on campus.
“They know this is an important concert for us, especially with this being part of the centennial celebration,” he says.
The choir also will be performing a mix of sacred and popular carols, including the gospel selection “Jesus the Light of the World.”
The choir’s accompanist Hoza Redditt arranged the piece, modifying it for the choir’s classically trained voices.
“Gospel music pushes voices, and it can be a strain on a classically trained choir,” Lloyd explains. “This is a lighter arrangement, keeping the spirit of the gospel piece.”
The choir will be singing more of Redditt’s light arrangements in the spring while participating in the Heritage Spiritual Festival at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church and the Shreveport Spiritual Festival.
Lloyd also hopes for an increase in membership next semester.
“We had some scheduling conflicts in the fall, which is why we had only 25 members, so we’re hoping to work that out,” he says.
In the meantime, the choir prepares not only for its featured performance in the concert but its combined performance with the wind ensemble and community ensembles at the end of the show.
“We’ll all perform as one,” Lloyd says.
“It’s going to be joyous,” adds Parker, conductor of the LSU Gospel Choir and supervisor of Information Techology Services and Creative Arts in the Baker School System.
He also leads several community choirs and vocal ensembles. And “community” is the key word here, because Parker’s mission in assembling the mass choir for the “Yuletide” concert is to represent Southern University’s influence in the community in its centennial year.
Some 100 singers from throughout the state, as well as the Baton Rouge community, will make up the choir.
“These are people who not only graduated from Southern, but those who have a connection to the university,” Parker says. “Southern has touched people in different ways, and I want so show this through the community choir.”
Parker stuck to selections familiar to the singers, who will not rehearse together until the morning of the concert. He’s also offering an element of surprise through his Ministers’ Choir.
“There are about 10 local pastors in this group, and I’m not going to talk about what they’ll be singing,” Parker says. “That’s part of the surprise. But I will say that some of them will be playing instruments, and we even have one who is a steel drummer.”
That would be Billy Overton, known as Maestro Billy Overton, who has recorded a CD titled “Faith of Steel.” Overton was a member of the U.S. Navy Steel Band, the U.S. Atlantic Fleet Navy Band and the 502nd U.S. Air Force Band.
And now he joins the Wind Ensemble and Concert Choir at Southern University in ringing in Christmas with so many holiday favorites, including Haymer’s.