Annual Vespers rings in the season at the Mount
November 27, 2017
NEWBURGH, N.Y. -
The annual Vespers service at Mount Saint Mary College, led by Durward Entrekin, is a tradition that marks the beginning of the Christmas season at the college. This year’s Vespers service will take place December 3.
For the Mount Saint Mary College community, the annual Christmas Vespers service of lessons and carols signals the joyous beginning of the holiday season.
The Mount tradition began in 1974 and has been a cherished part of college’s heritage ever since. This year, the Mount community will gather for Vespers on Sunday, December 3, at 7 p.m.
On the night of the service, students, faculty, staff, alumni, and friends of the Mount huddle together in the beautiful Chapel of the Most Holy Rosary on campus, anxiously awaiting the first strains of the orchestra.
Throughout the night, the chapel is filled with hymns and traditional songs of the season, including “Oh Holy Night,” “Carol of the Bells,” and “Christmas Day,” as well as Bible passages related to Christmas. Towards the end of the service, the audience joins in singing “Silent Night,” during which the lights are dimmed and the chapel is illuminated with candles.
The service “speaks to the sense of community, a sweetness and caring for others, that so many at the Mount cherish,” said Durward Entrekin, professor of music and director of the Mount Saint Mary College Choir.
The choir itself reflects this sense of community, with individuals from all over the college joining in. Students from Entrekin’s Voice Workshop course make up the majority of the singers, with the performance marking the culmination of the class. However, the choir also features faculty and staff members, student volunteer participants, and members of the local St. Philip’s Church Choir in Philipstown, N.Y., which Entrekin also directs. Some singers have been participating in the Vespers tradition for decades, he revealed.
Entrekin takes great pride in heralding the season through the service. “So few things remain the same in our world, but Vespers is one of them,” he noted. Aside from the choral pieces, the program for the service remains the same from year to year, including the readings, prayers, and even some of the song selections.
The music professor, who has been leading the Mount choir for 24 years, has a particular love for singing “Oh, Come All Ye Faithful,” the notes of the dramatic opening hymn ricocheting off the walls as the entire congregation joins in. “It has an emotional high that never gets old,” he said.
Nicholas Valentine, the former mayor of Newburgh, also eagerly awaits the event each year. The Mount benefactor is a faithful patron of the service – he’s attended every Vespers but one since 1974. And this year, Valentine’s wife, Susan, was selected to give the eighth reading.
The community leader has also been donating the tuxedo rentals for the Mount’s Vespers service for more than 40 years.
After attending the first Vespers and noticing that the male singers did not have traditional choir outfits, Valentine, who owns Broadway Tailors in Newburgh, approached the choir director to offer his services, and has been doing so ever since.
When it comes to recognition for his kindness, Valentine always protests that he is already well rewarded. “They do Vespers, they don’t have to give me anything else for it!”
“I never looked at this as a donation,” he added. “This is my choice to give to a place that is very dear to me. The Mount means so much to Newburgh.”
The businessman used to attend the service annually with his mother until she passed away. More than a decade later, he still feels her presence in the chapel at Vespers.
“She used to ask me, ‘When are we going to the event at the Mount?’” he reminisced.
So what’s Valentine’s favorite part of the service? That’s easy, he says: The solo for “Once in Royal David’s City.”
“The soloist at the beginning still gives me shivers,” the former mayor noted of the iconic opening, which features a single acapella voice from the choir loft. “There is nothing more beautiful than that hymn. It stays with me.”