Vocalists, musicians gather for another Alice P. Taylor Christmas service

For many decades, an ecumenical community-wide Christmas music service has been firmly entrenched on Henderson’s holiday calendar.

Even a global pandemic couldn’t derail the annual Alice P. Taylor Candlelight Service in 2020. To keep the string intact, organizers created a video and audio service featuring Henderson musicians far and near that was broadcast on social media and WSON radio.

This year, the service will take place at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 3, at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. (Tradition dictates that the service moves around between a handful of churches that have pipe organs.)

Music selections performed by groups from Henderson County High School and South Middle, a community choir gathered for the occasion, several soloists and small ensembles will include traditional seasonal favorites, including “In The Bleak Midwinter,” “O Come, All Ye Faithful,” “O Holy Night,” “Mary, Did You Know?” and the Hallelujah chorus of Handel’s Messiah. The program also will include congregational hymns.

Why the name?

Musician Alice P. Taylor moved to Henderson from San Francisco in 1897 after she married a young local attorney named N. Powell Taylor. According to a 2009 article by Yesterday’s News columnist Frank Boyett in The Gleaner, her marriage ended her professional operatic and concert career, but that certainly didn’t mean she stopped making music.

As early as 1903, Taylor was assisting with local organ recitals, and then followed with the 1924 formation of the Henderson Music Club, which organized recitals, pageants and concerts. Taylor was the first elected president of the club that eventually created an annual Christmas Candlelight Service.

Some believe the first Christmas Candlelight Service took place in 1931, and others think it was even earlier. Recent research indicated that Taylor organized the original service in her first term as music club president, which would make it nearly a century old.

In 1951, the Henderson Music Club added Taylor’s name to the service to honor her. For five years, until her death in 1956, Taylor was honored at the service with a special seat adorned with a big red bow and a corsage from the Music Club.

The Henderson Music Club dissolved about 25 years ago, but volunteers have kept the service going over time.

“Thanks to those who began and continued the tradition, the Alice P. Taylor Candlelight Service has become a beautiful, ecumenical, musical occasion enjoyed by hundreds,” said long-time volunteer and retired music educator Heather McCormick.

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