Comfort beyond the walls | Capital University, Columbus Ohio


    • Comfort beyond the walls

      Capital University Chapel Choir Brings Tidings of Comfort to inmates at the Ohio Reformatory for Women


      Likely, it’s humanity’s most compassionate gift.

      We hope it’s given when we need it most and hope we can provide it when others hurt. We pursue it, covet it, and are always careful not to depend too heavily on it. It’s the familiar place we turn (or return) to and it’s also an uneasy place to stray too far from.

      “Tidings of Comfort” is the central theme of Capital University’s Christmas Festival this year, and the Chapel Choir has taken an immersive approach to learning what comfort means, not only beyond the walls of campus, but beyond the walls of our personal inhibitions as well.

      “One of the things we’ve been exploring in our choir is that ‘comfort’ is a noun and a verb,” said Dr. Lynda Hasseler, director of the Capital University Chapel Choir. “We’re all seeking it – for many reasons – but we also have to offer it. Very often, offering comfort means experiencing some personal discomfort.”

      When presented with an opportunity to perform a portion of this year’s Christmas concert to inmates at the Ohio Reformatory for Women, Dr. Hasseler and the Chapel Choir decided to put this year’s theme into action, even if that meant stepping beyond the comfortable confines of campus.

      “We’re all embracing the ‘get out of our comfort zone’ mindset and agreed to bring the concert to a population that can’t get to us.” Dr. Hasseler began. “While preparation each year is a lot of work, it’s not really that hard to take the stage under the lights and sing beautiful music for an audience who loves you. It’s a much different thing to bring that concert into an environment that’s foreign –where you don’t know what the reaction will be.”

      In her 27th year of leading Capital’s cherished, annual holiday tradition, Dr. Hasseler admits the concert at the reformatory will also challenge her personally.

      “It is often hard for me to let things go,” she said with a smile. “Things don’t always go as planned. At times like these (when performing outside of Capital), I just go with the Spirit in the room. After all, this is not a one-way thing. It isn’t just us offering a gift to another. The gift will be given back to us.”

      Chapel Choir performs at Marysville Reformatory

      This week, the gifted singers, instrumentalists, and conductors will take the stage at Mees Hall on November 30 for the opening night of performances which will follow on four consecutive days.

      Expectations are always high, but Dr. Hasseler hopes this year’s event will not only be memorable, but transformative as well.

      "We have these young minds and voices, so it’s the perfect setting for using music as an agent for change... Imagine if every world leader sang in a choir, or played in an orchestra, or wrote poetry, or painted... (Art) just humanizes us.”

      Dr. Lynda Hasseler

      Traditionally, she has offered only glimpses of what is to come each year. This is by design, Dr. Hasseler says, because leaving the element of surprise is a theatrical way to keep the audience engaged. And this year is no different.

      “There’s a surprise twist this year that, of course, I cannot reveal,” she began. “It’s going to be pretty spectacular. We want the experience to be meaningful and draw the audience into the story.”

      According to Dr. Hasseler, the concert will ideally transform those in attendance in some way. She hopes when they leave Mees Hall, they will be changed and resolved to share the comfort they’ve received.

      Masterfully crafted through intense preparation, this year’s theme also aligns neatly with the master planning process currently in progress at Capital University. The Christmas Festival is a glowing example of how the university generously shares our extraordinary musical heritage with the community.

      The willingness of the Chapel Choir to bring the music into the reformatory is not only a generous act of love, but also timely and appropriate for the season and our current times.

      Dr. Hasseler is quick to point out that the art is much bigger than the production. She eloquently expresses that music, in its most beautiful presentation, can become our common denominator – as humans – and transcend the barriers which often separate us.

      “We have these young minds and voices, so it’s the perfect setting for using music as an agent for change,” she started. “Although I embrace, love and serve music as a pure art form; in and of itself, (music) does not have to do all those things.”

      Then she added, “But at its best, that’s exactly what it does. I have to believe that if more people had these experiences, we’d be in less of a distraught state. Imagine if every world leader sang in a choir or played in an orchestra, or wrote poetry, or painted. (Art) just humanizes us.”

      In “Tidings of Comfort,” art imitating life is a welcome illusion. With the global realities of aggression, poverty, and natural disasters, we may often feel limited in the types of change we can impact. Most often, music is associated with the spiritual or emotional lifting it provides. However, as Dr. Hasseler illustrates, it can speak and teach to the physical world as well.

      “This isn’t hard science,” she begins, “but something has been known to happen to singers together in a choir – or even carolers in a sing-along – that results in the heartbeats in the room syncing up. Imagine that; something that makes a physical change in all of us.”

      Dr. Hasseler also uses choral singing as an example of how we can be better together than alone.

      “Having a beautiful sound come out of your body and then to hear similarly beautiful sounds around you can be like an out-of-body experience. Your voice is more beautiful by virtue of the other voices, and theirs is more beautiful because of yours. You’re creating beauty right there, on the spot.”

      Surrounded by a talented cast of students, colleagues, and professionals, this year’s concert will have all the elements of beautiful sounds, choreographed movements, visual excitement, and masterful stage crafting.

      In addition to the Chapel Choir, the audience will be treated to the Women’s Chorus, directed by Dean of the Conservatory, Dr. Lynn Roseberry; The Choral Union; the Chordsmen, directed by Craig Courtney; Philomel, and several Conservatory of Music and professional instrumentalists.

      Several compositions written by Courtney will be featured and Dr. Jeff Gershman is preparing the instrumentalists. Michael Lester, the accompanist for the Chapel choir, will be performing piano interludes and Chad Baker, a former Conservatory student (’04 cum laude), will be featured on the organ.

      Dr. Hasseler also points out the handiwork of so many Conservatory voice teachers will also be present in the performance through the voices of the students they teach to sing every day.

      Without spoilers, she also alluded that those attending the concert should be prepared for some unexpected moments.

      “Let’s say that handbells figure largely in some portion in a rather spectacular way. There is also a theatrical twist that will be unexpected.”

      While “Tidings of Comfort” is the overarching message, there’s one take-away she hopes the audience will experience.

      “This is a joyous season, so let’s get filled up with that joy, then, let’s share it,” she said. “Let’s get out of our comfort zones to be kinder. Then, let’s challenge ourselves to offer up something in return.”