Soul Sessions Podcast: Tim Walker & the Belhaven Singing Christmas Tree
On today's show, Tim Walker, Director of Choral Arts, here to talk about the 90th Annual Belhaven University Singing Christmas Tree.
Tim says this annual event has been Belhaven's gift to the community for 90 consecutive years, and is America's original singing tree.
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Yolanda: This is Soul Sessions, conversations on culture from Jackson, Mississippi. I'm your host, Yolanda Clay-Moore, bringing you a look at the people, places, and events that make us the City With Soul. On today's show, Tim Walker, Director of Choral Arts, here to talk about the 90th Annual Belhaven University Singing Christmas Tree. Tim says this annual event has been Belhaven's gift to the community for 90 consecutive years, and is America's original singing tree.
Welcome, Tim, how are you doing today?
Tim: I'm great, Yolanda. How are you?
Yolanda: I'm doing well, doing well. Thank you for joining us. You have something pretty exciting coming up. Tell us all about it.
Tim: This year, Belhaven is celebrating the 90th anniversary of the Singing Christmas Tree on December second and third. This is the longest running singing Christmas tree in the United States, and so we're very excited to celebrate this 90th anniversary this year.
Yolanda: Such a unique experience. Tell us a little bit how you put it all together each year.
Tim: Last year we kind of reimagined what the Singing Christmas Tree should look like. Belhaven is unique in that we're fully accredited in all the arts, and so we thought it would be great to incorporate dance and theater into the Singing Christmas Tree, which was a new element to be added. And so last year's tree featured the singers as it has traditionally done for 89 years, but in addition to that, we had theatrical components. A Mary and Joseph duet, full narration, and our dance department put together a beautiful choreographed number representing the angels that came to the manger and they filled the entire football field. It was so energetic because they started on one sideline and it was a surprise to the whole community because this had never happened before. And you could literally feel the energy crossing the field as they made their way through the audience.
Yolanda: You're kind of new to the faculty, is that correct?
Tim: Yes, this is my third year.
Yolanda: What did you think about it when you first heard about the Singing Christmas Tree?
Tim: I have done singing Christmas trees in the past. In fact, when I lived in Lafayette, Louisiana, our church did a singing Christmas tree, which was very different because it was a full Broadway style production. But I have never done one outside, and so last year was a big learning curve for me to learn how to do a singing Christmas tree in a football field and stadium. Everyone got on board and we got very excited. And so even as we have approached this year, the excitement of, "Please tell us that the angels are coming back this year," have been one of the main things that the community fell in love with. And I think last year just reignited an excitement about this tradition here in Jackson.
Yolanda: You speak of tradition and it is truly a tradition. It's a place for community and fellowship and just a great celebration. Can you kind of speak to that?
Tim: Yeah. It is one of those things that no matter what age you are, you can come and be in an environment that is very festive, very warm. Someone even last night described it to me as a cozy environment that just really kicks off the Christmas season for them. Another addition we added last year was the addition of a children's choir comprised of students from St. Andrews Episcopal, First Pres Day School and MRA. And so students from those three schools, along with Covenant Pres, are joining us again this year. So it's bringing young families and children into this now 90 year old tradition and it's beautiful for me to see grandparents gathered in the stands and on the field, and then these first three fourth graders coming and joining us on the field as well. It truly is a multi-generational tradition.
Yolanda: I was reading on your website about this is the best opportunity for three areas of university, athletics, academics, and arts to partner together. So tell me a little bit about what this event does for Belhaven.
Tim: It is truly an opportunity because we don't have a concert hall big enough to offer a collaborative event. And so this is the one unique opportunity throughout the year that the arts can truly come together and collaborate to create a program to share with the community. And the buy-in of that last year was 100% on board and after the success of last year, everyone is just fueled with a new excitement of what this year can bring. And there's even talk, "Here's the 90th anniversary, 10 years we'll be celebrating the hundredth. What will that look like as we progress towards that?" It's my dream and hope that in the next 10 years that we could work towards something with sponsorship that would be something that would be nationally celebrated and televised. It is a unique character quality of Belhaven and of Jackson.
Yolanda: I look forward to seeing what that looks like. I can't even imagine what will be added or incorporated and just making it even better. And it's hard to imagine that it'd get better, but you never know with your creative minds over there. Let me ask you, I know you're kind of new to the city, but if you had 24 hours in the city of Jackson, what would you recommend to someone?
Tim: I'm new to the city on a second tour. I was born in Jackson and lived in Jackson for a while before moving to Louisiana. Jackson just has so many hidden treasures. One of the things I love most about our city is that Jacksonians don't eat in what I call chain restaurants. We have so many wonderful restaurants that are locally owned by Jacksonians that cater to a unique taste that I think is special to Jackson. And so, one of the things when people visit, I always suggest my top favorite restaurants for them to visit. But on top of that, I mean we have fabulous museums. Our museums are world class. The Civil Rights Museum and the Mississippi History Museum are just so excellently done. That's one of the top things I recommend. And also the art museum. I mean the art museum is just stunning.
Yolanda: Well, Tim, you said that you were born in Jackson, so just tell me what makes Jackson special for you?
Tim: Being born here, I was a child when my parents moved to the Gulf Coast. My dad was a professor and taught for a Gulf Coast Community College. Whenever I finished college, I was able to return to Jackson and live for a season. And with it being our capital, it's just a place that I love. I love tradition and Jackson brings all those things. And Jackson is full of wonderful people. My family, when we moved back here from Louisiana, before we even began looking at houses, we decided that we would live in Jackson, we have a wonderful home in Northeast Jackson. Because I just believe in the city and think that it has so many wonderful qualities. We hear a lot of bad things about it, but there's so many good things about this city. It is my hope and dream that as people catch the vision of what Jackson could be, that we just see a very bright future begin to dawn.
Yolanda: Tim Walker, Director of Choral Arts, we certainly thank you for sitting with us today and sharing about this wonderful event coming up on December second and third. And we look forward to seeing all of you at the 90th Annual Belhaven University Singing Christmas Tree. Thank you so much, Tim.
Tim: Thank you for having me, Yolanda.
Yolanda: Soul Sessions is a production of Visit Jackson. Our executive producers are Jonathan Pettus and Dr. Ricky Thigpen. To learn more about our organization and mission, head to visitjackson.com. I'm your host Yolanda Clay-Moore, and you've been listening to Soul Sessions.