'Christmas At Baylor' Returns To Public Television

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    The Baylor Choral Union (the combined A Cappella and Concert choirs) and the Baylor Symphony Orchestra perform during a dress rehearsal for "Christmas at Baylor." Photo by Jason Raddin / Baylor Photography
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    Special lighting produced a forest look during one of the pieces performed for "Christmas at Baylor." Photo by Jason Raddin / Baylor Photography
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    Caroling Baylor students perform for "Christmas at Baylor" while strolling on Burleson Quadrangle. Photo by Clifford Cheney IV / Baylor Photography
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    Camera crews taped strolling carolers on Burleson Quadrangle from several angles. Photo by Clifford Cheney IV / Baylor Photography
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    "Christmas at Baylor" features a Chamber Singers' performance at the McLean Foyer of Meditation at Armstrong Browning Library.
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    Phillip Byrd, producer/director of "Christmas at Baylor," talks with the Baylor Faculty Brass Quintet before taping a segment at Truett Seminary's Great Hall.
Dec. 7, 2004

by Lori Scott Fogleman

Click here for the "Christmas At Baylor" broadcast in your area.

If you missed the Christmas At Baylor television special last holiday season, Public Broadcasting System (PBS) stations across the country will once again feature the spectacular one-hour Christmas "classic" that delighted millions of viewers last year.

Central Texas PBS affiliate KWBU-TV and award-winning Brandenburg Productions teamed up to produce Christmas At Baylor, which was the only new holiday special offered by PBS in 2003.

During its initial national airing last December, Christmas At Baylor was seen by more than 6 million people on 287 stations, reaching 90 percent of U.S. television households, as well as parts of Canada and the Virgin Islands.

"We received letters, e-mails and phone calls from people across the nation who watched the program," said Executive Producer Larry D. Brumley. "Alumni expressed great pride in their alma mater and how it came across on national television, and viewers with no ties to Baylor commented on how talented and professional our students are. One non-alumni viewer wrote a letter saying he wished he could go back and re-live his college days because he would come to Baylor."

Shot in High Definition Television (HDTV) format during December 2002, Christmas At Baylor features the considerable vocal and instrumental talents of students and faculty from Baylor's celebrated School of Music performing during a high point of the holidays at Baylor - the annual choral concert in Jones Concert Hall, as well as other special performances. What sets Christmas At Baylor apart from most Christmas music specials is that it broke free from stereotypical staging - a single setting where a collection of songs is performed - by designing each performance to be harmonious with its place.

In Christmas At Baylor, the Baylor Chamber Singers perform in Armstrong Browning Library's majestic Foyer of Meditation, the 150-voice Baylor Choral Union and the 100-piece Baylor Symphony Orchestra perform in a sold-out Jones Concert Hall in the Glennis McCrary Music Building and the Baylor Brass play in the warm and reflective Piper Great Hall in George W. Truett Theological Seminary. Providing the transitions between each unique performance are caroling Baylor students, who stroll on the familiar paths that have led students to their professors for more than 100 years.

The program features traditional songs, such as "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day," "Angels We Have Heard on High" and "In the Bleak Midwinter," as well as the non-traditional, such as "Albinoni St. Marks' Sonata" and "Ding Dong Merrily On High," which bring the sounds of the Christmas season to life.

Christmas At Baylor was produced and directed by Phillip Byrd, known for his musical programs for the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and St. Olaf's College in Minnesota. Byrd also won a national prime-time Emmy Award for "Wolf Trap Presents the Kirov: Swan Lake." Brandenburg Productions has produced programs with many major orchestras, including the Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis, Dallas, Houston and Baltimore Symphonies, as well as the Boston Pops.

"I think [Christmas At Baylor] is one that will endure for a long time and will be well-received by public television and its audiences," Byrd said.

In addition to Byrd's credentials, the production crew included associate director and editor Janet Shapiro, whose credits include "Cincinnati Pops Holiday" and "Christmas with Robert Shaw"; lighting director Cheryl Thacker, who worked at NBC with the "Late Night with David Letterman" show in the 1980s; SONY Masterworks audio producer John McClure, who has produced 150 albums with Leonard Bernstein that have sold approximately 10 million copies worldwide; and technical director Annette Deshotels, the technical producer on the "Oprah Winfrey" show.

KWBU-TV also was an integral part of Christmas At Baylor from the beginning, with production supervisor Joani Livingston involved in early planning and brainstorming. She said the taping gave KWBU staff and Baylor telecommunication students a taste of what goes into a national production.

"This was a much bigger project than anything we had ever done before," she said. "It was a learning process for us to do something on this scale."

Being able to produce a show of this caliber and then distribute it through PBS is part of what Baylor had in mind when KWBU came under the university umbrella in 1999. Brumley said the School of Music wanted a conduit to the public television system to deliver programs nationally that would spotlight Baylor.

Dr. Stephen M. Heyde, a Baylor music professor and Conductor-in-Residence, thought Christmas At Baylor would be an ideal showcase event. Familiar with Byrd's PBS special featuring St. Olaf College, Heyde said he had wanted Baylor to have its own.

"I think so many people know about St. Olaf's, and they know it partly because of its Christmas show," he said. "It's an opportunity for people all over the country to know what fabulous students Baylor has."

Byrd and his production crew were on campus for one week in December 2002 capturing footage. In addition to Heyde, they worked closely with Dr. Donald Bailey, professor of conducting and director of choral activities; John McLean Jr., assistant professor of choral activities; and Dr. William V. May, dean of the School of Music.

"Standing in the truck as the production was being recorded initially was an amazing sight, and I knew immediately that we had something very exciting," Dr. May said. "One of the nice things about the show is that there is a great deal of musical diversity, so every number has its own charm and excitement. 'O Holy Night' is the high point in the show, without question."

The program is scheduled to be distributed by PBS in 2005 as well. Underwriting for the production was provided by Crothall Services Group and Dallas-based Baylor Health Care System.

To view the broadcast schedule for local as well as national airing dates, visit Christmas At Baylor.

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