Baylor University Student Musicians Move Swiftly to Create ‘Countdown to Christmas’ Despite COVID-19 Challenges

  • Full-Size Image: countdown
    (Photo courtesy of Matthew Hagestuen)
  • Full-Size Image: Countdown
    (Photo courtesy of Matthew Hagestuen)
Nov. 25, 2020

‘You can’t keep the spirit of Christmas down — and you can’t keep the spirit of our students down, either,’ says Baylor School of Music director of choirs

Contact: Terry Goodrich, Baylor University Media and Public Relations, 254-644-4155
Follow us on Twitter: @BaylorUMedia

WACO, Texas (Nov. 25, 2020) – It was beginning to look a lot like no Christmas.

Because of COVID-19, the Baylor University School of Music had to cancel “A Baylor Christmas” — a nearly 50-year tradition that draws sellout crowds to hear nearly 500 musicians in Baylor Symphony Orchestra and Baylor combined choirs. Gone, too, will be smaller ensembles who pop into campus buildings for brief concerts in December.

This has been a somber year, but “you can’t keep the spirit of Christmas down — and you can’t keep the spirit of our students down, either,” said Lynne Gackle, Ph.D., director of choral activities, professor of ensembles and The Mary Gibbs Jones Chair in Baylor School of Music.

A scant six weeks ago, the School of Music put out a call for help — and got a resounding answer. Dozens of students and faculty submitted ideas for a host of pre-recorded performances — three to five minutes each — of click-and-listen vignettes for Baylor fans across the country.

The result is “Countdown to Christmas”, a musical mélange of sacred, traditional, jazzy and downright playful videos, including some original arrangements by students. The link will be live Dec. 1.

They’re not talking about the 12 days of Christmas. They’re talking about 24.

“From Dec. 1 to 24, Baylor School of Music will offer Baylor University, alumni and fans a special daily gift for the holidays,” Gackle said.

While faculty also offered their talents, the School of Music opted to highlight students, selecting from their suggestions. Students scurried, some recording live while physical distancing, some doing their own recording, some composing their own arrangements and some even creating a few videos via Zoom with other musicians — all of it woven together behind the scenes by graduate conducting student Matthew Hagestuen and his colleague Josh Martin.

“The students showed thought, creativity, ingenuity and motivation. Virtually no one else is doing anything quite like this,” said Gackle, president of the American Choral Directors Association. “This is such a unique concept.”

There will be a Spanish lullaby for the Baby Jesus. A handbells choir will perform “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” The four-member Flute Fleet will perform “The Twelve Days of Christmas,” and a trio of marimbas will offer “Slightly Odd Ride” — a student-arranged take on “Sleigh Ride.”

Then there’s the quirky do-it-yourself video of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” Student Jaewoo Lee made six recordings of himself playing individual trombone parts, then meshed them into a virtual trombone choir.

“It blew me away,” Gackle said.

The countdown will culminate with the hour-long “A Baylor Christmas 2019,” the televised premiere of last year’s event, to air locally through KWTX-TV Waco/Bryan/College Station and nationally through other Gray Television affiliates on Dec. 24 and Dec. 25.

All the music will be hosted by Baylor’s website, with a link to the music landing page hosted on the School of Music website.

“The students were going to find a way to make music, no matter what happens,” Gackle said. “A lot of souls need healing. Music is God’s gift to us, and it heals the soul.”

“Countdown to Christmas” will include:

  • Baylor Concert Choir — “African Noel” and “Still, Still, Still”
  • Baylor Viola Studio — “Al La Nanita Nana,” a Spanish lullaby, featuring six student violists
  • Vocal Quartet (Virtual Choir) — “My Lord Has Come”
  • “Home” and “First Snow” — String Quintet (violins, viola, cello and bass) and pian
  • “What a Very Saxy Christmas!” — compilation of “Jingle Bells,” “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Little Drummer Boy”, featuring eight saxophonists
  • “Slightly Odd Ride” — Three marimba students playing a student arrangement in an interesting twist on composer Leroy Anderson’s “Sleigh Ride”
  • Virtual Trombone Choir — Trombone Soloist playing all parts of original arrangement of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas”
  • Organ performance — J.S. Bach’s “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland” (“Savior of the Nations, Come”)
  • Vocalists — Original arrangement of “I Saw Three Ships,” a traditional English carol, with fiddle and guitar
  • Baylor Flute Fleet — “The Twelve Days of Christmas”
  • Brass Quintet — “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas”
  • Baylor Trombone Quartet — Medley of “Lo, How a Rose E’er Blooming” and “Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire” (The Christmas Song)
  • Baylor Organ Studio — “Carol Rhapsody” on organ, with “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “Silent Night” and “Hark the Herald Angels Sing,” featuring three organists playing on organs located throughout the Baylor Campus (Markham Recital Hall – McCrary Building, Powell Chapel (Truett Seminary) and Jones Concert Hall
  • Baylor Men’s Choir — “Noel”
  • Baylor Symphony Orchestra — “Pastoral Symphony” from Handel’s “Messiah”
  • Baylor Wind Ensemble — “A Christmas Festival of Carols”
  • Golden Wave Band — “Joy to the World,” “Angels We Have Heard on High” and “Santa Claus is Coming to Town”
  • VirtuOSO (Virtual Choir) – original arrangement of “Carol of the Bells”
  • Baylor Bella Voce (Virtual Choir) — “Veni, Veni Emmanuel”
  • Baylor Jazz Ensemble — “Jingle Bells”
  • Baylor Bronze (handbells) — “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel”
  • Baylor Chamber Singers — “In Silent Night”
  • “See Amid the Winter Snow” from “A Baylor Christmas 2018”
  • “On Christmas Night” (Sussex Carol) featuring Baylor Choirs, Baylor Symphony Orchestra and bagpipes from “A Baylor Christmas 2018”

    Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 19,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 90 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.


    The Baylor University School of Music provides transformational experiences that prepare students for careers in music. Students thrive in a Christian environment characterized by a nurturing resident faculty, an unwavering pursuit of musical excellence, a global perspective, dedication to service and devotion to faith. They investigate the rich musical and cultural heritage of the past, develop superior musical skills and knowledge in the present, and explore and create new modes of musical expression for the future. While preparing for future leadership roles, students join with School of Music faculty in enhancing the quality of community life, enriching the larger culture and making Baylor a place in which heart, mind and soul coalesce. Baylor’s School of Music is a member of the National Association of Schools of Music and the Texas Association of Music Schools. Degree programs include bachelor’s and master’s degrees in performance, music education and academic majors, as well as doctoral degrees in church music. Degrees leading to the Bachelor of Music Education conform to certification requirements of the Texas Education Agency. Visit to learn more.

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