20-piece orchestra joins church’s annual concert

Published 8:07 pm Friday, December 1, 2017



For many years, First Presbyterian Church of Washington has hosted “A Service of Nine Lessons and Carols,” a Christmas service alternating music and biblical readings. Along with a reading of  the story of Christ’s birth, come the familiar Christmas anthems “Little Drummer Boy,” “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Silent Night.”

Less familiar is the 20-piece orchestra accompanying the church’s chancel and children’s choir and guest soloists whose resumes include stints on Broadway.

This is the work of Chris Watkins, who has taken on the role of music director at First Presbyterian.

“When I took the position, they had at the church, the organist position and the adult choir. I told them that if they hired me, I would give them full time work, and I’ve restarted the handbell choir, children’s choir — it’s just growing. It’s becoming a full music ministry,” Watkins said.

Part of the ministry is enlisting the help of his friends, many who are professional musicians, to accompany programs like Lessons and Carols.

“We worked together for years. In fact, whenever I have something special they call it a ‘Chris’ gig, and they drop everything and come help me,” Watkins laughed.

Musicians from the North Carolina Symphony, East Carolina University’s School of Music and the Top Hat Orchestra of Virginia are on the program; soloists soprano Katherine Lakokski, tenor Dan Calloway and baritone Dale Stine have graced many stages, while mezzo-soprano Alexandra Fee sang the lead role in a recent production of Gilbert and Sullivan’s Iolanthe.

“She is one of the top vocal students at ECU,” Watkins said.

Lessons and Carols will start with the church bathed in candlelight and end with the congregation lighting candles to hold during “Silent Night.” Highlights of the program include the children’s choir accompanying the adult choir with sign language, as well as a John Rutter arrangement of “We Three Kings of Orient Are” performed with solos by Calloway, Stine and chancel choir bass Bill Taylor.

After the service, the band will switch to Christmas big band music for the reception that follows.

The church offers the free concert to the public as a gift to the community, according to a press release. A nursery is also provided for children under the age of six.

“Please don’t miss this special service of Christmas music. You will be blessed and your heart will be lifted in preparation of this holy season,” the release reads.

“This is the largest one yet,” Watkins said.

Lessons and Carols will take place at 7 p.m. on Dec. 10. First Presbyterian Church is located on Gladden Street between West Main and Second streets.