The St. Rocco Church’s Christmas concert may take place after the holiday, but director of liturgical music and organist Christopher Caramello was quick to point out that the season is just beginning at that point.
Caramello said that liturgically, Christmas marks the beginning of the celebration in the church, not the end. He said St. Rocco’s is currently in the season of advent, and there are no Christmas trees or decorations to be found inside the church.
He and cantor Marissa DiBiase spoke to the Sun Rise during an interview at their perch looking over the church on Saturday, noting the second annual “A Journey Through the Nativity” will take place Sunday, Dec. 29, at 3 p.m.
“It makes more sense to have it after Christmas, while most places have it now, which, while there’s nothing wrong with that,” Caramello said. “But in the same respect, in a practical sense, it makes more sense because it’s less chaotic for people. We’re not competing. Most parishes are competing with three or four other programs the same afternoon for the next three Saturdays or Sundays in a row.”
DiBiase and Caramello said the church used to regularly hold a Christmas concert, but it “kind of fizzled out” many years ago. The new installment is the latest effort to rejuvenate the music scene at St. Rocco’s, and to add to the plethora of rich traditions the church has to offer.
“It’s a nice day,” Caramello said. “It allows people to take it in. Take in the audible elements of the parish, and the visual as well, which, again, we’re still in preparation mode, liturgically speaking and practically speaking. You don’t see that now, but you see the outside has already been decorated. It’s a building process for that, too.”
Caramello said the church’s pastor, the Rev. Angelo N. Carusi, is heavily involved in the “continuing Christmas celebration,” and the event wouldn't be possible without his support. Parishioners and priests from other parishes attended the performance last year, when they were able to attract at least 350 attendees – at which point they ran out of programs.
He added that the concert could wind up bringing in new churchgoers at St. Rocco’s as well.
“Sometimes a concert, it’s less of an obligation so it might just give them a flavor of what they're missing out on,” Caramello said. “As much as it’s a compliment, while people may say 'music makes the Mass' they really shouldn't – the Mass in itself is a gift from God, and we’re thankful for that. However, it can rejuvenate people to rethink perhaps their departure, to come back and even interest people from other parishes that may want to come here instead. Not that we’re competing.”
Planning for the show begins in August, right after the conclusion of the popular feast and festival. Caramello said the parish is adding percussion for this year’s performance, adding to a blend that will feature organ, piano, brass and a cappella selections.
He said rehearsals take place twice a week, though the choir is gaining confidence and practice isn’t as much of a necessity. Both Caramello and DiBiase noted the structure to the concert is key, as the former may play the piano on one song and have to rush to the organ upstairs for another. In that situation, an a cappella piece may be strategically placed in the middle.
“And it’s musically, to get the logistics of how there is a delay normally, but there’s certain ways in which you count the music out, you add or subtract a little bit from each beat in a measure, and that’s how we’re able to train the choir and the brass to actually match at the same time,” DiBiase said.
The first concert brought success and positive reviews, but also expectations for the next edition. DiBiase said she’s seen buzz on social media about this year’s show, so the anticipation has been steadily building.
“It’s become an expectation … it’s come to that point; the music ministry here has always been very rich in tradition,” Caramello said.
They’re ready for the challenge, though. Dress rehearsal takes place Dec. 26 – setting up a mad rush for Caramello and DiBiase between Christmas and preparing for the show – but there could be a community staple developing before their eyes.
“The church is quite big, so we knew last year, we said we’re not looking to fill every single pew because it’s hard to do,” DiBiase said. “Last year the whole center was just about full, so we’re hoping at least the center can be completely full. Each year [is] just building on that.”