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Peace on Earth

Peace on Earth

For nearly five decades, the Independent Presbyterian Church Choir has made its Christmas concert distinctive.

By Ed Reynolds

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The IPC choir at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, Italy, after singing a Mass at St. Peter’s. (click for larger version)

December 13, 2007

As with holiday seasons past, the Independent Presbyterian Church (IPC) choir will present its annual Christmas concert on Sunday, December 16. Few holiday rituals are more fulfilling than a late afternoon spent inside the church’s magnificent sanctuary listening to the choir and accompanying strings and brass instrumentation. This year’s presentation will include Vivaldi’s “Gloria” and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Fantasia on Christmas Carols.”

I first discovered the IPC Christmas concerts a couple of decades ago when the choir was under the direction of Joseph Schreiber, in particular their presentation of “In the Bleak Mid-Winter.” (Schreiber once described the song to me as both “gorgeous and kind of haunting.” Haunting, indeed. The first few phrases paint a desolate picture that sends chills down the spine: “In the bleak mid-winter, frosty wind made moan. Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone.”) A graduate of Northwestern University, Schreiber introduced Birmingham to world-class choral music upon his arrival at Independent Presbyterian in 1964 as church organist and music director. Jeff McLelland, current organist and music director at IPC, continues the Schreiber legacy. “Joseph Schreiber raised the level of excellence in chorale singing for church choirs [in the area],” says McLelland. “He established a wonderful tradition of music here, both with a professional-like choir plus offering quality concerts that are free to the public. It’s part of the church’s mission to continue the development of music and arts for public consumption.”

Louise Beard sang alto in Schreiber’s choir for 34 years. “Joe Schreiber sort of took church music out of just your—I hate to say ‘run of the mill’—but he put church chorale music on a professional level,” remembers Beard. “He was all about the music and anything that made the music right, which included a professional attitude, being on time, doing your part. He did not put up with lateness or absence without his knowledge. And he had the ability to make people want to do that. The music was an incredible experience.” Beard retired from the IPC choir after Schreiber stepped down in 1998. “After being there every Wednesday and Friday—and that was minimal—there were Tuesday night extra rehearsals, Saturday morning extra rehearsals—all kinds of stuff. But you wanted to do it, because the musical payback was so fabulous.”

Schreiber passed away on September 20, 2007. Independent Presbyterian has commissioned the building of a new organ to be named after the late director, with installation scheduled for 2012.

The IPC Choir Christmas Concert will be presented on December 16 at 4 p.m. The church is located at 3100 Highland Avenue across from Rushton Park. Call 933-1830 or visit www.ipc-usa.org for more information.