Potterton puts his own stamp on Baker Vespers
Matthew Potterton presented himself front and center for an entire song during his first-ever Baker University Christmas Candlelight Vespers, which was performed for the 79th straight time Sunday.
In the middle of the program, Potterton sang a solo as the Baker orchestra performed behind him. Potterton, assistant professor of music and director of choral activities at Baker, belted out “O Holy Night” for the next several minutes.
Potterton admitted he was nervous before the performance. However, it was a song he is quite familiar with singing.
“It’s tough to direct and sing,” Potterton said. “I usually don’t do that, but I thought I’d try it at my first vespers. It was a little bit difficult, but I think it went OK. It’s one of my favorite carols. I’ve actually sung ‘O Holy Night’ every year for some sort of concert since I was 11 years old.”
Two songs previous to Potterton’s performance, Marci Ziegler sang “Gesu Bambino.” Ziegler is an instructor of music at Baker. Audience members enjoyed the faculty members’ songs.
“I like to hear faculty members performing,” said State Rep. Tony Brown, adjunct professor of liberal arts and longtime psychology professor at Baker. “I thought it was a nice touch when Marci and Matthew both did solos. I thought that was really cool.”
Potterton took over for longtime music professors John and Susan Buehler, who had been in charge of vespers for years and who retired last spring. In his first year at the university, he decided to slightly alter the annual Christmas concert.
In past years, each musical group — choirs and orchestra — would perform several pieces of music then be finished. Potterton intertwined the different groups throughout each performance. No group performed more than two consecutive songs.
“I had a great time,” Potterton said. “I thoroughly enjoyed my first vespers. We changed things up just a little. I was hoping the audience would enjoy the changes and it looked like they did.”
He was right. The audience enjoyed the upbeat tempo Sunday.
“I liked the old format of vespers and I liked this new one, too,” Brown said. “I liked the pace and the fact that it kept moving. It was a great performance.”
Potterton thought he’d try the idea at his first vespers, because he likes keeping the show moving.
“A lot of times, choirs will get up there, sing their number and be done,” Potterton said. “I kind of spread them out throughout the show. As an audience member, I enjoy that, so I try to incorporate that as the director, as well.
“I have done similar types of concerts before and I’m always interested in presenting not only a good musical show, but a good theatrical performance,” he said. “I want to keep it entertaining for the audience and I keep that in mind when I’m putting together the show. I try to keep it moving and exciting, for lack of a better word, for the audience.”
Another change this year was audience participation for several songs. The audience stood up and sang four songs during each performance. Words to the songs were printed in the program.
“It’s nice to let the audience stand once in a while,” Potterton said. “Obviously, they are popular carols, and I think they enjoyed a chance to sing those carols. Logistically, it helps us to move people around during that time, too.”
He said both shows were well attended, but the audience for the early performance was near capacity. The second show filled most of the church. He was happy the students enjoyed his first vespers.
“A lot of them came up to me after it was over and had good things to say,” Potterton said. “I certainly appreciated that. I think they had a good time Sunday.”