By CLARENCE TANG
The BYU department of German and Slavic languages brings a genuine Christmas import directly from Europe to Provo on Sunday evening — the 25th annual Adventssingen (The Advent Program), a free concert of traditional music and readings for the Christmas season from Austria, Germany and Switzerland.
“Twenty-five years ago when we had a study abroad group in Austria, we went to the Salzburg Adventssingen — a very famous one. They’re a tradition all over Austria and Germany. It was so beautiful that we decided we would like to do something for the German students that would be … another aspect of German and Austrian culture.” said Norma Davis.
Davis and her husband, Garold Davis, both retired BYU faculty members, started the Provo version of Adventssingen in 1974.
“It’s a musical program celebrating the advent of Christ,” said Michelle Stott, associate professor of German and coordinator of the Adventssingen. “It’s taking the essence of the Christmas Celebration as you would find it in Austria or Germany and trying to bring a little bit of that to the people in Provo.”
The annual performance was first held in the Madsen Recital Hall, but after the second year, it was moved to the Provo Tabernacle, where it has remained since, to accommodate all who wanted to come. At first, the Tabernacle managers were leery about hosting a Christmas celebration on a Sunday, but the spirituality of the event quickly won their approval, Davis said.
“That’s one thing we wanted to make sure students saw — the quiet reverence that’s always been involved in the celebration of Christmas (in Germany and Austria), at least out in the countryside,” Davis said. “Only a few miles north of Salzburg is where ‘Silent Night’ was first composed and performed.”
The traditional, church-centered celebration is an aspect of Christmas that opposes the boisterous, commercial celebration of Christmas in North America, Davis.
“It’s a quiet, natural, peaceful celebration, in contrast to what we have here,” Davis said. “We’re a pale reproduction here of what they do over there, but even so, people come back year after year.”
Regular participants in Adventssingen can be found among both the audience and the performers. The Salzburg Folk Ensemble, for instance, are a group of folk musicians who have returned year after year to perform.
“We do this because we love it so much,” said Barbara Carter, leader of the ensemble.
Carter plays the hachbrett (hammered dulcimer), a traditional Austrian folk instrument. The ensemble also has a guitarist, a harpist and, as of nine months ago, a zither player from Germany — Hildegard Ahlstrom.
“She called me up and said, “Barba-ra, I play ze zitter and I vant to play with you,’ and I was, like, ‘What? In Utah?’ Then I knew we had someone real,” Carter said. “She learned in Augsburg, Germany, and she is very good…. The zither is the most difficult instrument to play in the world.”
Other elements of the program include soloists, some duets and trios, a men’s chorus, a women’s chorus, a group of recorders, the German student choir, a few Bible readings (in German) and some audience participation, Stott said.
“There’s nothing like it in the state,” Stott said. “People come back ever year just because it reminds them of Germany. This is the only time they get to hear this music.”
All are invited to Adventssingen and admission is free. The concert begins at 6:30 p.m.
“It’s a gift from the German department to the university and the community,” Davis said.