Almost an hour and a half before the concert even begins; the Lawless chapel foyer is dense with an awaiting audience. There were two separate lines on each side of the chapel which streamed all the way out into the university’s main center street as students, professors, faculty and staff of Dillard University, the Gentilly community, and various other guests from around the city at large wait to be seated for the concert set to begin promptly at 7:30 p.m.
Doors didn’t open until 6:45 p.m. as everyone waited anxiously to enter the chapel sanctuary. The eager audience talked among themselves about the special guest said to perform during Dillard University’s 70th Annual Holiday Concert presented by the renowned concert choir under the direction of S. Carver Davenport.
Special guest included composer, pianist and arranger Richard Smallwood, who is best known for his gospel classics “The Center of My Joy” and “I Love the Lord.” Other special musical guests included Charrisse Nelson-McIntosh, a minister and Psalmist. Nelson-McIntosh was one of 22 singers selected by Richard Smallwood to join his renowned group, Vision, and Mary Griffin who is featured on soundtracks for the films Coyote Ugly and Driven and had a cameo role in the movie Studio 54. Griffins debut album, Purified, received accolades from Celine Dion and Pattie Labelle. After enduring the trials and tribulations of Hurricane Katrina and relocating to Texas, Griffin performs regularly at the Red Cat Jazz CafÃ© in Houston, TX.
At this point, it is hardly standing room only. The chapel is packed to the brim, and everyones eyes are peeled and ears open waiting for the concert to begin. The lights dim, and the concert theme “A Child is born” is displayed by a projector at the top of the altar. The full orchestra fine tunes all the violins, cellos, oboes, french horns, clarinets, trumpets, timpani’s and various other instruments preparing for the choir processional. Last minute preparation is taking place on all levels of production as Davenport takes his position on the podium ready to give the orchestra its down beat to begin with the processional song.
The orchestra begins playing and the choir begins to march in through both side back entrances into the chapel sanctuary, each holding lit candles with the wax catchers and all. The male singers debonair in their formal black tux and the young ladies in their long black dresses each with a string of classy pearls around their necks. They march in down both outside aisles singing to the processional “Fanfare for Christmas” making their way to each of the two sides of the choir stands. Davenport moves off the podium into the center aisle so that everyone could see him as he conducted the entire musical ensemble.
“This being the first performance since Hurricane Katrina, the magnificent and exuberant concert choir came back with such power and resilience,” said Sharon Walker, Senior Sociology Social Work major from Dallas, Texas. “It would surely be an understatement to try to put this in dialogue format on how magnificent they were.”
Smallwood kicked off the concert with famed song “Anthem of Praise” which seemed to shoot adrenaline through each audience member as the concert moved forward. The song selections ranged from a diverse choice of genres and styles of music ranging from traditional gospel, to classical, operatic, and contemporary.
University Chaplin Gail Bowman narrated the entire event, giving words of encouragement for the new season as she opened for the concert and gave the benediction.
“Amazing does not even describe this event,” said Ms. Joyner, Dillard Admissions Counselor, “It was inspirational to say the least”
Smallwood ended the concert with another selection from his famed collection “Total Praise” which raised everyone off their feet as Smallwood played the grand piano in center aisle and the concert choir, orchestra and full side band played along.
“It was a poignant celebration of Christmas, a very meaningful tradition in Dillard’s history as the community at large join together for this miraculous celebration,” said Dr. Somervill, Dillard Sociology professor.
Immediately following the concert the audience was invented to the Kearny Terrance on the Dillard campus for the lighting of the Dillard University campus tree and the Avenue of the Oaks.