A cherished Mercer University tradition returns this year as the School of Music presents its 26th annual Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols.

The community will have two chances to experience the musical service, which is planned for 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10 and 11 at St. Joseph Catholic Church in downtown Macon. Admission is free.

Dr. Stanley Roberts

“There are nine lessons which are from the Old Testament, along with those of the traditional Christmas story, found primarily in Luke and Matthew,” said Dr. Stanley Roberts, the conductor. “With those nine lessons, we sing carols and choral compositions that reflect or illuminate the particular Biblical passage.”

Music is performed by the Mercer Singers, Mercer Women’s Chamber Choir and Mercer University Brass Quintet, with Jack Mitchener on organ and Cynthia Smith on piano. Dr. Craig McMahan, University minister, reads the lessons. The congregation is invited to join in singing five of the carols.

“It’s truly an interactive musical event that takes place in that there is the element of listening by the audience, and then they actively participate in the music making, just as our finest music major would do,” said Dr. Roberts, associate dean and Arthur Lowndes Rich Professor of Choral Conducting at Mercer.

The tradition of A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols began in 1918, when it was first held on Christmas Eve in King’s College Chapel at the University of Cambridge. Churches soon adapted the program for their own use, and Mercer held its first service in 1995 in Newton Chapel.

The Mercer service became a yearly tradition and has been held every year since, except in 2020 when it was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Roberts said audience members new to the service may be surprised by the “overwhelming beauty and power of so many voices singing.”

“But then you contrast that, and the choir will sing something a cappella that is very quiet and reflective, where you can literally hear a pin drop when they finish,” he said.

“It’s this incredible breadth of experience from the size of sound that takes place and the beauty of absolute quietness in the same service.”


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Jennifer Falk is director of digital communications at Mercer. She edits and writes feature stories for The Den and examines web data and analytics to drive content decisions. She also creates and supervises the creation of content for primary University web pages and e-newsletters.