Bach Festival’s “A Classic Christmas” at Rollins Debuts Nationally on PBS

The Rollins music community stars in celebrated holiday programming that will broadcast coast to coast for the first time on public television stations.

Photo by Scott Cook Photo by Scott Cook

The Bach Festival Society of Winter Park’s annual concert of holiday favorites will appear on public television stations nationally for the first time.

The December 2018 performance of “A Classic Christmas” filmed at the Knowles Memorial Chapel at Rollins will air on 90 percent of PBS stations this December, including during primetime hours in Orlando, Seattle, Denver, Houston, and Pittsburgh.

During the hour-long show, the celebrated Bach Festival Choir, Youth Choir, and Orchestra perform well-loved hymns and pop songs, including “O Come All Ye Faithful,” “Joy to the World,” “Silent Night,” and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.”

“It’s a real honor for us to be acknowledged by the national PBS audience,” says Bach Festival conductor and Rollins music professor John Sinclair. “To be performing for people who will have an understanding and appreciation for what we do is especially wonderful.”

Sinclair, the chair of the Rollins music department, described feeling a special recognition that so many television stations selected this performance from among a competitive crowd of Christmas concerts. He has served for 30 years as artistic director and conductor of the Bach Festival Society of Winter Park, which has attracted a reputation since its inception in 1935 as one of the nation’s best oratorio societies.

The Bach Festival Society is infused with the Rollins College community; nearly half of its performers either attend, teach at, work with, or have graduated from Rollins. That includes the volunteer choir of 180 and orchestra of about 40 musicians. In a given program, Sinclair noted that several dozen Rollins students may sing and as many as 10 will play instruments.

People affiliated with Rollins also wrote most of the musical arrangements for the upcoming 2019 “A Classic Christmas” live performances, including three music grads, Eric Ransom ’00, Christopher Weiss ’04, and Fletcher Wilson ’17. The society allows the artists to retain the rights to their arrangements, enabling them to share their work in the future.

Studying music at Rollins means real-world performance opportunities and access to some of the world’s finest performers, educators, and industry professionals. Photo by Scott Cook. Studying music at Rollins means real-world performance opportunities and access to some of the world’s finest performers, educators, and industry professionals. Photo by Scott Cook.

For current Rollins students, playing with an orchestra, working with guest artists, and understudying roles offers unique opportunities for exploring their art form.

“It definitely was exhilarating,” says music major Drew Young ’21 of singing in the 2018 recorded Christmas concert that’s airing on PBS stations. “At the time we didn’t know it was 90 percent, but knowing that people across the country were seeing us was really great.”

The tenor, who works as an intern at the Bach Festival Society, says he appreciates its increasing recognition. “We’re known as the leading oratorio society of the South, but now we’re getting into that national level where people are really getting to see us and really know our name.”

Rollins College is rare for having a professional oratorio and musical society in its midst. Few such pairings exist nationally, and none in Florida. Other oratorio societies that are associated with a college or university don’t produce as many performances or work at the same level with a professional orchestra and soloists.

“We will be spreading the word about the Bach Festival Society’s excellence nationally, in highly rated time slots, from Florida and Alaska to everywhere in between,” says Phil Hoffman, executive director of WUCF TVTK in Central Florida.

Get a sneak peek of the Bach Festival’s “A Classic Christmas” performed at Rollins, which is set to broadcast nationwide on PBS beginning December 16.

In addition to the Christmas songs, the public-television broadcast features interviews with Sinclair as well as Rollins President Grant Cornwell and Assistant Professor of Music Jamey Ray ’06.

Viewers local to the Winter Park campus can tune in to the Bach Festival Society’s “A Classic Christmas” on Orlando’s WUCF-TV on Monday, December 16, at 10 p.m., on Christmas Eve at 8 p.m., and on Christmas Day at 3:30 a.m. and 5 p.m.

Four upcoming live performances of the Bach Festival Society’s “A Classic Christmas,” which features a new lineup of musical works, will be held on December 14 and 15 at 2 p.m. and 6 p.m. at Rollins’ Knowles Memorial Chapel. Tickets start at $35.