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Bishop Burbidge’s 2021 ‘virtual Christmas card’ showcases student singers, musicians

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Last year during the first Christmas of the pandemic, Bishop Michael F. Burbidge wanted to give the people of the diocese a little gift that would raise their spirits. So he sent out a “virtual Christmas card” in which he conveyed his Christmas greetings, along with a video recording of a beloved carol, sung by students from the four diocesan Catholic high schools. 

Eight students were shown singing “O Holy Night” in last year’s video, which proved so popular that Bishop Burbidge decided to continue the tradition.

This year, so many students wanted to participate that the project grew into a much more elaborate production, featuring 68 singers and instrumentalists from all four diocesan high schools singing a choral arrangement of “The First Noel.” Audio tracks were recorded in multiple sessions at the schools; they were mixed in the studio and professionally mastered for optimum sound quality.  

“The gift to the diocese is really you and your talents and beautiful voices,” Bishop Burbidge told students gathered at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More in Arlington one night in early December for the video shoot. 

“You are God’s instruments,” he said, adding that last year, when many people were “alone and carrying heavy crosses” because of the pandemic, “all of a sudden this video appeared, and hearts were touched.”

Students who came to the video shoot in formal concert attire said they were excited to participate. 

“We saw last year’s video” and wanted to be involved this year, said violist Shane Wall of St. John Paul the Great Catholic High School in Potomac Shores.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” added singer Sarah Giaccio of St. Paul VI Catholic High School in Chantilly. 

In addition to the concert footage, the video draws a parallel between the birth of Jesus and the Eucharist by weaving in scenes of a priest preparing for Mass and students at a Christmas tree farm decorating a tree to prepare for Christmas. They are shown stringing lights, placing a Nativity scene under a tree, and hanging ornaments. Ornaments shown in the video give a nod to diocesan high schools and two poignant photo ornaments commemorate classmates who died last year: Andriko Bilaniuk, a violinist at Bishop O’Connell High School in Arlington, and Aidan Kwelberg of Bishop Ireton in Alexandria. 

By tying in the Christmas scenes with the scenes showing the Eucharist, the video makes the subtle point that “we don’t have to reserve all of our wonder and awe for Christmas,” said Matt Riedl, director of media production for the diocesan Office of Communications, who directed the video. “We’re witnessing a miracle every Sunday.” 

Violinist Triana Andino of St. Paul VI said the project gave the students a chance to showcase the music programs at Catholic high schools. Tenor Patrick Coleman of St. John Paul the Great added that he appreciated the chance “to do things together with the other high schools,” especially after many large group activities were canceled because of the pandemic. 

“It really warms my heart to see these kids wanting to give their gift back to the community,” said Jan Siegfried, instrumental music director at St. Paul VI, during a break at the video shoot.

“It shows the hope and blessing we have in this generation. This will be a special night for them — something they will always remember.” 

View Bishop Burbidge's 2021 'virtual Christmas card' 


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2021