When the Sounds of the Season concert was first established in 1949 under President J. Hillis Miller, it was a midnight Christmas service held in the University Auditorium, which was then known as the “Chapel Auditorium.”
Obviously, a lot has changed over the past 67 years. The show was renamed “Sounds of the Season” in 1989 to reflect the diversity of the UF campus, and in 2010, it was moved to the Phillips Center due to high demand. In 2014, the show aired on WUFT for the first time, capturing an even larger audience for an already sold-out show.
For many in the Gainesville community, Sounds of the Season is the harbinger of the holiday season. This year, Sounds of the Season: ¡El Festival! took place on Sunday, December 4th, to another sold-out audience. Those in attendance were treated to a lively concert, featuring a fusion of traditional Christmas music with a Latin flare.
School of Music (SoM) Professor Dr. Will Kesling, the director and mastermind behind the whole production, was inspired to choose this year’s theme by his recent trip to Colombia and his friendship with Jorge Hernán Arango García. Maestro Arango is the conductor of Ensamble Vocal de Medellín, a Colombian group that travelled to Gainesville to be part of the show. Their contribution included two solo performances by Michele Cabeza and Isabel Alvarez, who performed the songs “La Virgen Lava Pañales” and “Esta Noche” respectively.
“I wanted to give the audience traditional music they’ll know, while at the same time incorporating Spanish music and dances,” Kesling explains.
Since coming to UF fourteen years ago, Kesling has taken on Sounds of the Season as his own project. Every year, he picks the music, prepares it, and conducts it. But, Kesling insists, the production is hardly a one-man job.
“There are three hundred people on that stage throughout the performance,” he says. “We get one rehearsal all together, and it takes a lot of different talent for it all to come together.”
The songs — which ranged from “The First Noel” to José Feliciano’s “Feliz Navidad” — flowed together seamlessly, a testament to Kesling’s hard work. Thunderous applause followed every number, and the crowd danced along with the choir during some of the catchier songs.
But there was no louder — or longer — applause than that which followed PhD student Joshua Mazur’s encore performance of “O Holy Night,” a song he had also performed at last year’s show.
“It’s the last year I’ll have Joshua here,” Kesling explains. “So I had to have him do the song one more time, because it was such a hit.”
In addition to his solo, Mazur arranged the opening number, “Stella splendens,” a pilgrim song from Spain that dates back to 1399.
“The last few years, we’ve been trying to create content in the concert that was inspired by these old Pilgrim songs about the birth of Jesus,” Mazur explains. “This is the third one I’ve attempted, and since it’s from Spain, it felt like an obvious addition to the show.”
The show closed with Georg Fredrich Händel’s “Hallelujah,” performed by all of the choirs and the orchestra. It was a fitting ending to the extravagant show, which illustrated the power of collaboration.
Kesling is already contemplating adding a second show for future holiday seasons, a prospect that excites him, despite the extra workload.
“Every year, we want to reach as many people as we can,” he explains.
And, as the show continues to beat the odds and grow more impressive with each passing year, the opportunities for growth seem limitless.