Christmas at Augustana: The seniors’ finale


Giang Do

First year Graham Hunt plays cello in the Christmas at Augustana dress rehearsal on Dec. 1, 2022.

Najiah Osborne

As students prepare for the end of the semester, the celebration of Christmas awaits. Christmas at Augustana is an event led by the Augustana Symphony Orchestra. They performed with the Augustana Brass Ensemble, Ascension Ringers, Augustana Choir, Augustana Concert Chorale and Jenny Lind Vocal Ensemble on Dec. 3 and 4 to celebrate the love for the holidays. 

Senior Haley Tromblee is part of the Augustana Choir. This year, Tromblee performed at Christmas at Augustana for the last time. 

Tromblee comes from a small high school graduating class. Because of this, participating in Christmas at Augustana has been a learning experience for Tromblee. 

“It’s such a wonderful and enriching experience to be part of something that is much bigger than yourself,” Tromblee said. “I just have a lot of gratitude for [Christmas at Augustana], I’m very lucky to be part of it.” 

Kelli Jo McNeice, senior, is a member of the Jenny Lind vocal ensemble. This year, McNeice performed at the Christmas at Augustana event for the third time. 

“Christmas at Augustana is very stressful and hectic. I think it’s the longest concert that the music program puts on all year,” McNeice said. “And it’s all of the music ensembles except for the bands.” 

Senior Rachel Heikkinen is part of the Augustana Symphony Orchestra and the Jenny Lind choir. Heikkinen performed at Christmas at Augustana for her second year and thinks that “it’s lovely to have so many people from the community and so many family members come celebrate music with us.”

Heikkinen plays the viola, and has been playing and singing since fifth grade. Being part of two ensembles, she is expected to perform regularly. Heikkinen said that Christmas at Augustana is unique because the choir gets to sing with the orchestra. 

“We never get to do that in concert,” Heikkinen said. “The orchestra plays a lot of Christmas melodies and those are really fun to play and not always the serious classical music that you can sometimes think of an orchestra as being.” 

As a part of the choir, Tromblee enjoys getting the opportunity to listen to the other musicians, such as the orchestra, during the show. 

“I love orchestra music,” Tromblee said. “I love the chance to hear them play.”

While this event calls for lengthy rehearsal times and stress, McNeice believes Christmas at Augustana to be a very special time. She is given the opportunity to sing with the other choir groups, which doesn’t happen all of the time. 

“I get to sing with my friends and other choirs,” McNeice said. “I get to see people in different ensembles, and it’s really special to all be together and celebrate Christmas and make music together.” 

The unification of different musicians in order to make one cohesive display is part of what makes Christmas at Augustana such a spectacle. It takes a lot of talented individuals to come together in order to make the event special.

Like McNeice, Heikkinen said the rehearsals can be demanding. However, in the end, she feels like it’s worth it. 

“We get to make so many people happy,” Heikkinen said. “It’s really enjoyable for us as musicians to sing this music and just smile as we’re performing.” 

Tromblee feels many emotions when the event approaches. She said that she felt excited for the event, but sad that it’s her last year. 

“I might not be doing this again,” Tromblee said. “At this point, I’m really trying to soak up these experiences and really enjoy the event for what it is and for what I can give to it.” 

It’s difficult for the seniors to step away from such a unique experience, especially after being involved for multiple years, but in doing so they can examine what the show has meant to them. 

“I feel very grateful to be part of this experience,” Tromblee said. “I’ve also become extremely grateful for the friends I’ve made in choir.” 

McNeice has been singing for Augustana for four years. She has been performing since middle school. McNeice is also the Augustana College National Anthem singer for athletics. 

After three years of performing in Christmas at Augustana, McNeice’s favorite part of the event is collaborating with the other musicians to make music. She shares these special moments with the people she loves when they attend the event. 

“It’s really special when my parents and friends come too,” McNeice said. “It’s just a really special time of the year.” 

Heikkinen’s favorite thing about the Christmas at Augustana event is being able to hear all of the ensembles come together. Heikkinen said that she loves how each ensemble has their own unique sound. 

“Whether it’s the brass ensemble, the orchestras [or] the individual choirs,” Heikkenen said. “I love to hear how all of that can come together.” 

The imagery at the start of the event has been something Tromblee is fond of. She also appreciates hearing separate ensembles perform. 

“It’s a very beautiful imagery that we can create with the candles and walking down the aisle,” Tromblee said. “You also get to hear the different ensembles play songs – group collective songs – it’s incredible.”

With the Christmas season approaching, McNeice is feeling warm and happy. Though she’s stressed about rehearsals, she is still excited for the event to happen.

“At the end it’s a really rewarding experience,” McNeice said. “After the weekend is over and we’ve done both of the concerts, it’s just very satisfying.” 

Heikkinen feels well prepared for the event. She isn’t nervous in the slightest. Like McNeice and Tromblee, she is excited. Her director Ernesto Estigarribia has prepared her for the event.

Being able to see her family support her at the event and spending time with friends during rehearsals has been a highlight for McNeice. McNeice said that Christmas at Augustana has built a community in the Quad Cities and participating in it has made her feel like an important part of it. 

“I think Channel eight always comes out and records it,” McNeice said. “And there’s a lot of people just from around here that aren’t even Augustana parents that come and see the show too.”

Seeing everyone on stage together is one of Heikkinens highlights of this event. Christmas at Augustana is the outlet for her to play the music she is most passionate about. 

“I share this with my family,” Heikkinen said. “I share this with the people I love, my friends and everybody in the community.” 

Being part of Christmas at Augustana has impacted the student life of Tromblee. Being part of the event, the choir has taught Tromblee about time management. 

“It has allowed me to put more of myself into practice,” Tromblee said. 

Singing is McNeice’s favorite thing to do. It brings her joy and makes her feel as if she is flying in the clouds. Being part of Christmas at Augustana has taught her more about stamina when singing. 

“Obviously breathing is the most important thing,” McNeice said. “With Christmas at Augustana we had like maybe 10 choir pieces we had to know. That’s a lot of singing in one day, so it definitely teaches you a lot about pacing yourself and supporting your voice the right way.” 

McNeice has also learned the importance of being a musician through participating in the event. She said that it’s important for people to hear the music that they make, and be moved by it. 

Like McNeice, Heikkinen has learned about the power of music and how happy it can make people feel. Heikkinen believes that Christmas at Augustana brings people to a place of happiness. 

“It brings people so much joy,” Heikkinen said. “I like to see so many people who are passionate about music bringing Christmas joy to everybody and really kicking off the holiday season.”

Unlike other performances that Heikkinen has been in, Christmas at Augustana allows for her to work with several different conductors. This exposure has allowed Heikkinen to learn more about music. 

“It’s a good experience for learning,” Heikkinen said. “To understand a new conducting style and also sing with students and other ensembles who you know have different levels of where they’re at is a good learning experience.” 

Tromblee learned how to be confident in her abilities from being part of Christmas at Augustana. She said that Christmas at Augustana gave her the confidence she needed to succeed. 

“[Christmas at Augustana] taught me how to stand by myself and with a choir,” Tromblee said. “Standing alone and with a choir are two different things, being with a choir takes a lot of balance and listening.”

Tromblee has a passion for singing, and it has changed her life and made her more confident. Like McNeice, she has been granted many opportunities and made a lot of friends from singing. 

“[Singing] has allowed me to know what I really want to do,” Tromblee said. “I will always be thankful for singing.” 

Heikkinen enjoys the challenges that music poses for her. Heikkinen said that she enjoys the emotional aspect as well, in that music is powerful and can affect our emotions. 

“People can really connect to the things you’re playing,” Heikkinen said. “They can really find joy or sadness, and all of that, and that’s something you did as a musician– I think that it can be very powerful.” 

It is McNeice’s last Christmas at Augustana, and she will miss many things about the event, especially the people involved and the special community that she has built at Augustana.

“As you get older, there’s always going to be new communities to be part of, however, Augustana is a special one – everybody knows everybody,” McNeice said. “You get opportunities here that you wouldn’t have in other places.”

It’s Heikkinen’s last Christmas at Augustana. She will miss performing “Joy to the World,” which is performed every year in the finale. Like McNeice, she will also miss all of the connections and friendships that she has made throughout the years. 

“Christmas at Augustana has been such an experience that I will always hold in my heart,” Tromblee said. “I’m grateful and very humbled – I have so much respect for everybody who takes part in it.”