WAVERLY — In 1517 Martin Luther nailed his “Ninety-Five Theses” to the door of All Saint’s Church in Wittenberg, Germany, which became the foundation of the Protestant Reformation.
The world is observing the 500th anniversary of Luther’s bold action this year, and Wartburg College’s 70th annual Christmas with Wartburg is honoring his life and work in songs.
Performances are at 3 and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 2 and 3 p.m. Dec. 3 at Neumann Auditorium and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 1 at Lutheran Church of Hope in West Des Moines. Tickets are now on sale.
“Our theme is ‘Heaven Above,’ which is based on a Christmas hymn, ‘Von Himmel Hoch’ written by Martin Luther,” says Lee Nelson, artistic director and professor of music. “We’re also using his setting of ‘Savior of the Nations Come’ to open the concert this year.”
According to historians, ‘From Heaven Above to Earth I Come’ is a hymn composed by Luther most likely for a family celebration of Christmas as a ‘children’s song on the Nativity of Christ.’ It was first published in 1535 and when performed in its entirety, has 15 stanzas. The melody most associated with the text was released in 1539, believed written by Luther, as well.
“From heaven above to earth I come
to bear good news to every home!
Glad tidings of great joy I bring
to all the world, and gladly sing.
Venite, adoramus! (O come, let us adore Him!)”
Wartburg Choir, Wind Ensemble, Castle Singers, Ritterchor men’s choir, the all-female St. Elizabeth Chorale and Kammerstreicher (a string orchestra) will perform, for a total of about 380 students.
Nelson will direct the Wartburg Choir and Ritterchor. Craig Hancock, professor of music, will direct the Wind Ensemble. Mark Lehmann, lecturer in voice, will conduct the Castle Singers. Karen Black, professor of music, will direct the St. Elizabeth Chorale. Jacob Tews, assistant professor of music, will direct Kammerstreicher.
Celebrating the Protestant Reformation “is a great honor and a very difficult task. How do we take something that happened 500 years ago and make it relevant to today? The whole idea is to look at the world in which we live and hope to do better, to choose to lift up those things that are good for each other, for our fellow humans,” Nelson explains.
The artistic director began working on the theme about four years ago and found inspiration in the seven corporal acts of mercy from Matthew: Feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, bury the dead, shelter the traveler, care for the sick and ransom the captive.
“Those themes of service and learning and using our gifts to help others will permeate the show,” Nelson says. The new mural backdrop designed by Chris Knudson, a 2001 Wartburg graduate and the college’s director of marketing and communication, will have references to the acts of mercy, as well as Martin Luther.
The concert will feature the premieres of Jacob Tews’ “Behold the Lamb,” and several arrangements by Wartburg alum Joshua A. Evanovich, as well as such carols as “Hark the Herald Angels Sing” and “Away in a Manger” and Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Gloria in Excelsis” from the Mass in B Minor.