Lessons and Carols in Iowa City


By Lindsay Steele
The Catholic Messenger

While studying music performance at St. Ambrose University in Davenport, Keaton Connell would cross the Mississippi River into Rock Island, Ill., each Advent season to enjoy a candlelight lessons and carols concert at Augustana College.

“My holiday is not complete without going to something like that,” he said. “With the readings, prayers and music, it’s hard to beat. It’s really a special event.”

Now in his first full year as music director at St. Patrick Parish in Iowa City, the 24-year-old is sharing his Christmas tradition by putting on a similar concert of his own. He will direct a “Lessons and Carols” concert complete with a 25-member choir, organ, strings and piano Dec. 18 at 7 p.m. in the St. Patrick Parish Day Chapel.


“I wanted to do something new and exciting that would bring in a lot of people,” Connell said.

Connell said the lessons and carols format will begin with chant and contain eight readings from the Bible highlighting the coming of and preparation for the Messiah. After each lesson, a carol or chant will be performed as a way to highlight the message of the previous reading.

While the format has been popularized by Protestant churches — Augustana College, for example, is a Lutheran institution — Connell said the Lessons and Carols format has Roman Catholic roots. “It can be formally traced back to the Middle Ages of Catholic Liturgy of the Hours in Europe,” he said.

At the time, performances would have been done with ornamental chants of “great complexity and beauty.” At the St. Patrick performance, chants will be mixed with more familiar choir and accompaniment arrangements. The audience will be able to sing along during some portions of the concert, Connell said.

Connell said he hopes the audience will like the lessons and carols format as much as he does. “I’m wanting to make it part of the musical tradition (at St. Patrick) and keep it going.”

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