The weeks leading up to the Singing Christmas Tree at Snyder Memorial Baptist Church are more than hectic. During that time, Larry Dickens, the minister of music, is pulling together what those involved in the annual Christmas tradition call "the Miracle on Westmont."

The tree, in its 31st year, brings together 250 singers, a 30-piece orchestra, two handbell choirs and youth choir, which will feature 114 teens. This year, the tree will incorporate the Kidsville Kids! and a youth choir, under the direction of Joy Cogswell.

"We are excited about it," said Dickens of the tree. "We're doing a few different things this year - but we try to have something different every year."

The big "different" this year is the premier of an original composition by Giles Blankenship, which has been set for the choir and orchestra. The orchestration is also an original, and written for the piece by Neil Finn. Titled Glimpse of Glory, the composition was the inspiration for the title of this year's program.

The tree, more than 40-feet tall, is a big draw inside and outside of the community. Tickets have been available on the church's Web site for several weeks, and have been moving quickly. 11_25_09christmastree4.jpg

"This will be the 31st annual performance of the Singing Christmas Tree at Snyder, and it is really a Fayetteville Christmas tree," said Dickens. "This was one of the first singing trees in the state of North Carolina."
With that rich heritage, the tree has gathered quite a following. "We have groups from out of state that travel on charter buses to come see the performance," explained Dickens. "They plan their Christmas season around it."

As do many people in Fayetteville. Annually more than 6,000 people come out to see the performance, so the free tickets go quickly. "There are still some tickets available and they can be reserved through the church office or on our Web site," continued Dickens.

While the performance seems seamless, much work is put into that finished show.

"It's a pretty interesting process," said Dickens. "The planning process starts in May, with all of the selections and themes completed by August."
All of the scripts are original and pulled from different places.

"Years ago you would buy a musical with all of the songs and scripts and then do what's in front of you," he said. "But that isn't the case anymore. This is a huge process. It's very challenging, but it's worth it."
Dickens said that rehearsals for each of the individual groups begin in mid-August. "All of the different groups work independently as we move through the fall season," he said.
It is during that time that the groups whose performances overlap or interact are brought together in small groups.

"The week before the first performance is the first time everyone is all together," said Dickens. "That's why we jokingly call this the Miracle on Westmont - all of the pieces are never in the same room until Tuesday night's first full dress before the show. Basically it all has to come together in about five and a half hours."

Dickens said with everyone rehearsing bits and pieces, the production doesn't seem to make sense until it is all in the room at the same time.

"It is pretty nerve wracking for the production people," he said. "This is my 11th production, and some people say this is why I have a bald spot. But the show always comes together."

The tree is scheduled for Thursday and Friday, Dec. 3-4 at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 5-6 at 4:30 and 7:30 p.m. Limited tickets are available now, and can be reserved at the church's Web site, www.snydermbc.com, or by calling the church office at 484-3191.


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