By LINDA M. LINONIS
The 50th Boar’s Head and Yule Log Festival will be the finale for trombonist James Hummer.
In 1961, he participated in the first such pageant at St. John’s Episcopal Church as a 22-year-old student at Dana School of Music at Youngstown State University. He’s now a 72-year-old grandfather and choir director for 40 some years at St. Stanislaus Kostka Church, where his wife, Carol, is organist.
“It’s been quite an experience,” the Boardman man said of his long-term commitment in a brass ensemble. After 50 years, he said this milestone year seemed the right time to “retire.”
Hummer’s involvement has led to participation by his grandchildren, Brian, 17, and Meghan Lawson, 20, of Boardman. Brian, who has been involved a dozen years, will pull the yule log this year. His sister has 15 years with the festival.
Hummer said he plans to enjoy future festivals as a member of the audience. He admitted his final participation will be
“bittersweet.” “I never imagined being with this so long,” he said.
Hummer said the original brass ensemble included himself and Dr. Ronald Gould, YSU faculty member and choirmaster and organist at the church, who also served as director for a few years.
Hummer said he believed the festival has had staying power because of its message, music and colorful costumes. “There’s a certain flair to it,”
He said it’s fun for the cast but does take stamina. There are two performances Sunday, each lasting about 90 minutes.
The Rev. Dr. Bradley Pace, who became rector of St. John’s in July, is a first-time festival participant. When he was interviewed by the search committee, the Rev. Dr. Pace said he was told “community involvement and being able to skip” were two of the requirements for the position. His role in the festival is skipping hand-in-hand with a “sprite” after the youth brings in a candle to light other candles on the altar.
“In the fall, I practiced skipping through leaves with my daughter, Miriam,” Dr. Pace said. The 4-year-old will be a yule-log page along with his son, Isaiah, 6, while sibling, 20-month-old Judah, has to grow up a bit.
As leader of the church, he wondered what his responsibility for the festival would be. “It’s so well-coordinated. It’s a testament to the commitment of the parish and community,” he said of the pageant’s longevity.
The rector said he knows producing such a large festival is quite a feat and is proud of the church-community accomplishment.
Sarah Cart is transitioning the director’s position to Meg Silver this year. A member of St. John’s, she became involved when her children participated in the late 1980s. She’s been in the cast and has served as director since the mid-’90s.
“It’s the light, the music and the backdrop of St. John’s stained-glass windows,” Cart said of the allure of the festival.
The Norman Gothic architectural style of the church seems a perfect fit for the festival. The rough-hewn grey limestone interior provides a textured backdrop for the play of light filtered by the stained-glass windows and candles. “The story is set in a medieval manor and court,” Cart said.
“It is a service,” she said of the pageant that tells the story of the birth of Christ and the visit by the Three Wise Men. The Christ child is not there in form, but symbolized by a star.
Cart said the music, much of it Christmas-oriented, is the heart of the pageant, which is without dialogue.
Surprisingly, the cast of about 100 rehearses just once — the day before the event. Musicians rehearse at various times. In addition to the cast, the festival features Salem Youth Chorus, Brier Hill Pipes and Drums and community musicians.
Cart credited “faith” in the cast’s ability for the pageant’s enduring success. “It’s a gift we give to one another.”