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San Clemente Journal

The Voices of Angels

Nov 27, 2018 10:37AM ● By Donia Moore

Candlelight Procession done as only Disney can. A full orchestra, 600 member choir, bell choir, and a celebrity narrator.

By Donia Moore

This holiday season, some of the most beautiful voices in San Clemente are singing at the Disneyland Resort’s Candlelight Procession and Ceremony on December 2nd. Members of the Latter-day Saints of San Clemente Choir have performed in this event since 2011 as part of one of the oldest and most beloved traditions in the 65-year history of Disney theme parks. 

Under the direction of San Clemente resident Tara Nordstrom, founder and administrator for the choir, they have repeatedly cleared hurdle after hurdle of judged vocal auditions. New this year, video presentations were also required by the Disney music directors to win the honor of participating in this spectacular event.  

Tara, like so many of us who have seen this production at Disneyland over the years, was hooked the moment she and her family saw their first Candlelight Procession done as only Disney can. A full orchestra, 600 member choir, bell choir, celebrity narrator who read from the Bible about Jesus’ birth climaxing with Handel's Hallelujah chorus was pure magic. Then, just when they thought it couldn’t possibly get any more spectacular trumpeters appeared on the rooftop playing their trumpet fanfare. Although Tara was only a young girl at the time, she decided that someday she was going to sing in that choir. In 2011, she and friend Barbara Bell co-founded the Latter-day Saints of San Clemente Choir with this purpose in mind.  

The choir boasts 32 members, ages ranging from 14-76 and two co-directors. Barbara Bell is a lifelong singer /musician with a BA in music. Nathan Pothier has a BA in choral conducting, teaches music at San Clemente High School and is co-owner of the Institute of Theatre Arts. Tara is the organizer, carefully making sure every “i” is dotted and every “t” crossed as the choir readies itself to add their beautiful notes to the other choirs of the Candlelight Procession.

Hometown Roots
All of the Mormon choir members have their roots in San Clemente. Alumni of the musical performing programs of San Clemente High School and Dana Hills High School, their angelic voices meld with the evening skies over Disneyland starting Dec.2 this year.
While not all the choir members have performed professionally, Megan Peo and Paige Mateski are two of the singers who have. Both women have called San Clemente “home” from the time they were children. 

Paige, a former Rotary scholarship winner who has performed professionally, summed up the reason why she has been involved with the choir for such a long time. “There’s something magical about coming together with beautiful music and wonderful musicians to ring in the season and do what we love.”

Megan, a talented conductor and director of music in her own right adds, “It’s the start of Christmas. It brings together a wonderful group of friends and takes us out of our normal routines for a few days to make music. I can’t think of a group of more talented individuals to be with who leave themselves at the door to become one voice and sing of hope, peace, love and wonder. Candlelight gives us an uplifting welcome to a season that can be stressful and chaotic.”

For many years, on the first weekend in December, our San Clemente choir has joined with approximately 600 musicians and vocalists, hand bell artists, orchestra members, soloists and a celebrity narrator to perform favorite and traditional holiday songs, including the Hallelujah Chorus. Fluid, graceful, sign language interpreters are amazing to watch and are as much a part of the performance as the musicians. 

The dramatic procession begins at the far end of Main Street. All the lights along the route are dimmed and the participants each carry a lit candle as they walk together singing a cappella, to the front of Main Street Station. The Station is transformed into a giant stage that will accommodate all the performers as together they chronicle the events of the very first Christmas. This beautiful and moving tradition dates back to 1958.

Tara’s personal favorite year of Candlelight was in 2012 when Disney did 20 days of Candlelight. The Latter-day Saints of San Clemente Choir had the privilege of participating in seven nights that year, a record number of performances. It was quite literally a dream come true for Tara and her family - made even more magical because she got to experience it with her husband, daughter and dad who are also in the choir.

The Beginnings
When Disneyland celebrated its first Holiday Festival in 1955, a group of 12 Dickens carolers, under the direction of Dr. Charles C. Hirt of the University of Southern California, performed throughout the park, and guest choirs were invited to perform daily in the Main Street, U.S.A. bandstand, which was re-christened the Christmas Bowl for the season.
In 1960, the event was moved back to Town Square, and actor Dennis Morgan was invited to read portions of the Biblical Christmas story in between the classical hymns. This tradition has continued with famous celebrities including Cary Grant, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Jimmy Stewart, Gregory Peck, Charlton Heston, James Earl Jones, Olympia Dukakis, Dick Van Dyke and many others lending their eloquence to the program. The “Living Christmas Tree,” featuring the Western High School a Cappella Choir, was incorporated into the Candlelight Ceremony that year as a centerpiece for the massed choir ceremony on the specially constructed “tree” risers. It was so well received that they were given this annual place of honor for the next 21 years until their director, Alexander Encheff, retired in 1981. In 1982, the newly formed Disney Employee Choir (volunteer Disney cast members from the Park, Studio and Walt Disney Imagineering) was selected to fill their place, an honor they have held ever since.

Over the years, the event has become so popular that it was also introduced at Walt Disney World’s inaugural holiday season in 1971 (starting at the Magic Kingdom, and moving to Epcot in 1994). It has grown from a simple procession of candle-lit carolers into a magnificent classical concert featuring a thousand-voice amassed choir, the Living Christmas Tree, an orchestra, fanfare trumpets, bell choir, soloist, sign-language interpreter, guest conductor, and celebrity narrator, with the audience invited to sing along with the carolers’ rendition of Silent Night. But for all of its grandeur, Disney guests particularly love Candlelight for the way it makes them feel each holiday season.

Making a Memory 
You don’t have to be religious to enjoy this amazing experience. The beauty and the pageantry of sharing this glorious music with hundreds of people and performers standing shoulder to shoulder, singing some of the most beautiful Christmas songs ever penned may not only move your soul; it may even bring back some hope for the goodness of the world.

The Candlelight Processional and Ceremony takes place twice each evening on Saturday and Sunday, on the first weekend in December. Enjoy the spectacular decorations and revisit favorite attractions. Many like It’s a Small World, the Haunted Mansion and even the Jingle Cruise, are all decked out for the holidays. If you only take your family once a year to Disneyland, this is the time to go. The Park holiday spirit is in full swing from November 9 to January 6. The event is included with the price of admission to the Disneyland Resort, though VIP seating is available for an additional fee.
If you can’t get to Disneyland for the Candlelight Procession, you can still enjoy the beautiful sounds of Christmas with the Latter-day Saints of San Clemente Choir. They will be performing once again as part of the multi-faith Christmas concert hosted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on December 8th at the San Clemente Stake Center located on Vista Montana at 7 pm.

“I can’t think of a better way to start off the Christmas season than singing beautiful sacred music with family and dear friends,” says Tara. 

Me either. Why not start your holidays off with the magic of faith, hope and love – couldn’t we all use a little more of that?