Staff Reports

Just because a Christmas cantata is traditional doesn’t mean there isn’t room outside the gift box for a little creativity. 

Cook’s United Methodist Church choir members plan to color outside the lines Sunday and put a little extra bit of themselves into the 9:30 a.m. Christmas chorale service.

This will be a world premiere, as the lyrics for five of the six songs in the cantata are written entirely by Cook’s choir members with music added by choir director Rick DeJonge. The Cook’s choir will expand for the event, swelling to 28 voices, which will be backed by a 15-piece orchestra.

“I love writing music, but I’m not as strong lyrically,” said DeJong, who has had songs recorded by Willie Nelson and Liza Minelli, which demonstrates quite a range of his own. “This was a chance to get others in the choir involved. We were able to tap into some hidden talent.”

A phenomenon was witnessed by some of the amateur songwriters, as some songs seemed to write themselves without the need for a cocktail napkin on which so many songs were written in Music City.

“I’d never tried to write a song before despite having a long background in music,” said Ed Watson, a former Top Gun fighter pilot and retired CEO of the Barbershop Harmony Society. 

Watson’s writing topic was Joseph, and he wasn’t sure what to say at first. 

“I woke up at about 5 a.m. one morning and wrote my piece in about 30 minutes,” said Watson.

Sally Swaney and Sandy Wright also admitted they had the writing process go much faster than anticipated when first given their assignment.   

Wright also has a strong barbershop harmony background but found a home in the Cooks choir after moving from Pennsylvania.

“My topic was the shepherds, and I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about them,” Wright said. “It turned out to be much easier once I imagined their point of view, how scared they must have been by the star. It then went pretty quickly.”

Swaney also woke up one morning and wrote most of her assignment about the star, but then reached out for a little help.

“I called my sister, Susan, in Michigan, and she helped me polish some parts,” Swaney said. “She probably should get some writing credit.”

Maybe divine inspiration doesn’t require a napkin but sometimes needs a sister.

Erin Cervenansky has the most experience writing songs, as she loves mixing lyrics and music. She had a more measured approach to writing her topic, which was “waiting for a savior.”

“The chorus came to me pretty quickly,” Cervenansky said. “For the story portion of the lyric, I looked in the Bible for the prophesies for inspiration.”

Joyce Gaines had a centerpiece topic with Mary in “The Handmaid of the Lord.”

“Writing the lyrics challenged me to think about Mary’s story from the perspective of a young teenage girl,” said Gaines. “She thought she knew what her future would look like, then her world got rocked by the angel. The story in the song is the same, but perhaps it’s told in a different tone.”

The Cook’s choir includes DeJonge’s talent and originality. He writes the music for Disney World’s Thanksgiving parades each year. He was conductor of the Wilson County Honor Band last year and the Rutherford County Honor Band this year. 

The Cook’s Cantata is open to all Wilson County residents and will be held in the friendship hall at the church at 7919 Lebanon Road in Mt. Juliet.

There are also provisions underway to simulcast the event on the web and in Cook’s newly renovated sanctuary in the event of an overflow crowd.