Christmas At Baylor

October 13, 2003

As years pass, the School of Music's Christmas concerts echo in the memories of many alumni. Those who have not made it back since their days as students now can recapture the Baylor Christmas experience at home with a cup of steaming hot chocolate. KWBU-TV and Brandenburg Productions have collaborated to produce a new holiday feature, "Christmas at Baylor," shot in High Definition Television (HDTV) format, that will be broadcast nationwide on PBS stations this Christmas season. Produced and directed by Emmy Award-winner Phillip Byrd, the program is PBS' only new Christmas release this year.
Larry D. Brumley, acting vice president for university relations, said that for the program to be accepted into this market is unprecedented for the University. "It is the first time Baylor has had a program distributed nationally by PBS," he said. "We won't know for sure until later how many stations will choose to broadcast this production, but we fully expect close to 1 million people will see it this year."
Taping for the program took place last Christmas at several campus sites including the Jones Concert Hall, the Armstrong Browning Library's Foyer of Meditation and George W. Truett Theological Seminary's Piper Great Hall. The program features students and faculty from Baylor's School of Music and offers a mixture of classical and popular Christmas music. The 150-voice Baylor Choral Union and 100-piece Baylor Symphony Orchestra are joined by the Baylor Chamber Singers and the Baylor A Cappella Choir. 
Byrd and his production crew were on campus for one week last December capturing footage. They worked closely with Dr. Donald Bailey, professor of conducting and director of choral activities; John McLean Jr., assistant professor of choral activities; Stephen Heyde, professor and director of orchestral activities; and Dr. William V. May, dean of the School of Music.
"Standing in the truck as the production was being recorded initially was an amazing sight, and I knew immediately that we had something very exciting," Dr. May said. "One of the nice things about the show is that there is a great deal of musical diversity, so every number has its own charm and excitement. 'O Holy Night' is going to be a high point in the show, without question. We showed the preview to a large group of our students here, and they were very excited about it."
This is not Byrd's first holiday production; his resume includes programs with the Mormon Tabernacle Choir and St. Olaf's College in Minnesota. He also won a national prime-time Emmy Award for "Wolf Trap Presents the Kirov: Swan Lake."
"We are very happy with the show," he said. "I think this is one that will endure for a long time and will be well-received by public television and its audiences."
Initial response to "Christmas at Baylor" has been good, with several stations asking permission to use it during their December pledge drives -- "the ultimate compliment," Brumley said. WPBA in Atlanta even requested permission to feature graphics from the DVD on its station Christmas card. 
More than 300 station representatives attended the "Christmas at Baylor" screening during the PBS annual meeting in Miami in June. "I am very pleased with the reception this program is getting from stations across the country," Brumley said. 
The production crew included lighting director Cheryl Thacker, who worked at NBC with the "Late Night with David Letterman" show in the 1980s; audio producer John McClure, who has produced 150 albums with Leonard Bernstein that have sold approximately 10 million copies worldwide; and technical director Annette Deshotels, the technical producer on the "Oprah Winfrey" show.
"A lot of people will be introduced to the Baylor campus through this program who have never been here before," Brumley said. "We hope that many of our alumni across the country will tune in and watch this program. It will make them proud of Baylor."
"Christmas at Baylor" tentatively is scheduled to be broadcast at 8 p.m. (CST) Dec. 23 and 8 p.m. (CST) Dec. 25, but check local listings closer to airtime. A DVD of the one-hour program and additional highlights is available for purchase.