Questions on Religion Spark Candlelight Discussion

Graphic by Ashley Bonett 10

Graphic by Ashley Bonett ’10

Dana Rappaport ’11
Web Opinions Editor

Graphic by Ashley Bonett '10
Graphic by Ashley Bonett '10

Graphic by Ashley Bonett '10

Staples’ annual Candlelight concert has continued to enthrall the Westport community each holiday season.

It has earned its title as Staples’ gift to the town, providing Westport with a moving performance from the music department.

One captivating song of the evening, “Sing We Noël,” is a Christian-based song from the thirteenth century.

In a lavish presentation, choir members walk down the aisles of the dimly lit auditorium, holding candles in their hands.

The sound of the orchestra reverberates through the room, as the singers make a dramatic turn to face the audience members and sing their harmonies.

But despite the tradition’s beauty, the song has a clear religious affiliation.

The bylaws of the Board of Education Policy Service clearly addresses religion within Westport schools.  It states: “[Religious] performance material is selected to help students and the public become aware of, understand, and appreciate human culture, history, and religious diversity”

Although Candlelight contains religious affiliated songs, the Staples music department has shown the town it is not primarily about the religions.

Last year, the Staples choir sang two secular songs, one Jewish song, and a Christian song.

However, the affiliation of these songs hardly phases its performers.

Choir President Alan Southworth ‘10 adamantly agrees that Candlelight is not predominantly about religion.

“Any religious aspects of the [Candlelight] concert are minimal and are generally not even brought up when describing it as a whole,” Southworth said.

Choir Vice President Breezi Toole ’10 shares similar feelings towards the concert.

Toole practices the Catholic religion, but in no way does she let other religions’ songs prevent her from performing.

“My religion is incorporated in Candlelight . . . but I am more than happy to sing songs from other faiths in order to bring everyone together,” Toole said.

And unification is the primary reason for the concert. Songs such as the “Welcome Yule” and “Sing We Noel,” fundamentally Christian songs, are not sung to persuade the community to convert faiths.

Instead, they are used to educate students and the public on religious history and diversity, as required in the regulations provided by the Board of Education.

“Choir, band, and orchestra are not looking to shove religious ideas down the audience’s throats. Music is an art, and the point is not to sway someone to believe in something,” said third year choir member Peter Molesworth ‘11.

The majority of the performers, such as Molesworth, truly believe that Candlelight is not about its religious affiliations. However, there are some students not as adamant.

Justin Honigstein ’10, a choir student of the Jewish faith, admits to feeling uncomfortable singing Christian related songs in his past years at the concert.

Yet choir director, Alice Lipson, has recognized students such as Honigstein, and has successfully attempted to create a more comfortable environment for these performers.

“Although we sing a piece every year where references to Jesus are made, Ms. Lipson specifically tells all choir members that they are not obliged to sing any sections that they might be offended by,” said Southworth.

Also, the Board of Education Volume II clearly states that during the annual Hallelujah Chorus, standing is optional. It addresses that the custom’s origin is apocryphal; our continuing the custom is historical, but not related to religious worship.

“Standing up during the Hallelujah Chorus recognizes the history and richness of music, not its Christian affiliation,” said Principal John Dodig.

After five years at Staples, Dodig has never received complaints or offenses pertaining to Candlelight. He notes that the sophistication of Westport and the Staples community has created a balance of religions.

Despite the yearly questioning of candlelight’s religious affiliations, Lipson stands strong in her belief and continues to push the main themes of candlelight.