ALEXANDRIA, VA—On the evening of Sunday, Dec. 11, St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School (SSSA) presented a program to the community that combined the rhythms of soul and jazz with the story of Christmas.
The Lessons and Carols Vespers Jazz Concert took place in the Upper School Chapel under the direction of Vaughn Ambrose. The SSSA Octet joined Rev. Chris Miller as he told the story of the birth of Jesus Christ and spoke about the real meaning of Christmas.
Smiling students wearing their best Christmas sweaters and smiles greeted the concert’s attendees. There is a friendly, warm vibe you feel just entering the school grounds. So it was no surprise when Head of Schools, Ms. Kirsten Adams, said one of the biggest lessons that she wants the kids to learn involves being respectful, kind, and concerned about the community.
Adams welcomed the audience and introduced Miller, Ambrose, and the SSSA Octet. Both Adams and Miller spoke highly of the very humble Ambrose, Director of Jazz and Chapel Music. They applauded his effort and the dedication to the school and its music programs. Reverend Miller Miller added that the concert would not have been possible without him.
The concert began with a high-spirited jazzy version of “Oh, Christmas Tree”. It was followed by an explanation from Miller about the word “presence”. An especially moving part of the concert happened after the playing of each song. Miller continued to tell the story of the birth of Christ and connected each song to it.
There were humorous moments, too. A crowd favorite was the comparison of King Herod to the Grinch, followed by a lively swing band rendition of “You’re a Mean One, Mr. Grinch.” At one point, Miller admitted that “opening our hearts to the real Christmas Spirit is sometimes a hard thing to do”. He related “understanding” Jesus and the Christmas Spirit to cradling a newborn in your arms. This served as the perfect introduction for “Joy to the World”.
As Ambrose explained, this was not your average Christmas concert. It was important to the performers to bring together the secular and the spiritual meaning of Christmas in a relatable way.
Miller, an SSSA alumnus, was excited for people to celebrate the Spirit of Christmas with one another. Previous years proved a challenge because of the pandemic and trying to get students acclimated to studying.
The concert helped raise funds for the Mother of Light Center. The center’s purpose is to “faithfully pursue a relationship with each individual and the families with whom God brings to encounter,” according to its website.
Mother of Light is a Catholic organization in the Arlington Diocese that has formed a partnership with the St. Stephen’s and St. Agnes School, which has strengthened over time. Concert attendees were invited to make donations in the form of gift cards. Donations help the Mother of Light Center to support local families in need.
SSSA is a college preparatory Episcopal Church School in the Diocese of Virginia that educates students aged three through 18 years The school consists of three campuses, serving students in Northern Virginia, Maryland, and D.C.
To make a donation or volunteer for Mother of Light, please visit Motheroflightcenter.com. [SEE ALSO: Give Close Canines a Home for the Holidays: Sisters Sophie and Joey Up for Adoption at AWLA]