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When 1,200 Music Lovers in Philadelphia Came Together To Sing a Beloved Carol, This Is What Happened

It was a dark December evening in Philadelphia, just a few days shy of the winter solstice. Decked in down against the cold, people streamed into the Kimmel Center's cavernous lobby from the front and side doors.

This is what we mean when we talk about community -WRTI Classical Host Gregg Whiteside

They came to sing a new arrangement of "Silent Night" with friends and strangers.

Arriving in twos and threes, and groups of ten or more, they were young and old, and in between; they came from down the block, up the interstate, across the river.  Nearly everyone had sheet music in hand, and the sense of eager anticipation was almost palpable.

It was kind of crazy idea: Take an iconic Christmas carol, 200 years old this year. Compose a new arrangement in four parts. Publish it online, and invite anyone to learn it. Spread the word by mouth, by email, by social media. Suggest that everyone drop what they're doing to come sing it together in the midst of one of the busiest times of the year. That's the SILENT NIGHT SING-IN.

Credit Lisa Schaffer/@LisaSchafferPhotography

Turns out, if you plan it, they will come.

The event and the arrangement are the brainchild of composer and conductor John Conahan, who teamed up with WRTI to organize and promote the Sing-In. He also brought his 30-plus member high school choir The Wissahickon Camerata, and spread the word to so many others.

Credit Lisa Schaffer @lisaschafferphotography
Composer and conductor John Conahan (left) with WRTI Classical Host Gregg Whiteside

There were members of professional and community choirs; church choirs from all over the region. There were families, couples, singles. People from different cultures and different faiths.

"As I stood amidst the throng of singers and witnesses to this special occasion" explains WRTI's Gregg Whiteside who gave opening remarks, "their voices filling that great space, I was struck by the realization that this is what we mean when we talk about community.

"Here we all were, with different backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and religious beliefs, singing and listening together, moved by the power of the music! All differences buried, all resentments pushed aside, as members of the human race sang together, their beautiful voices a cathedral of sound, rising story after story to the dome of the Kimmel Center -  a manifestation of goodwill, hope, and human kindness.”

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.