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John Langstaff

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Biography

As a teacher and singer alone, John Langstaff has had a rich and varied career. But as the founder of the Christmas Revels in the 1950s, he has also been responsible for one of the most invigorating modern day holiday celebrations. It seems appropriate, then, that Langstaff was born on Christmas Eve in 1920. He grew up in Brooklyn Heights, and at the age of eight joined the Grace Church Choir where he sang soprano. His parents, who often invited friends over for spontaneous performances of Bach chorales and Christmas carols, also influenced his musical education. As Langstaff grew older, he became a baritone, and he studied at Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and at Julliard in New York. Following college, he completed a successful tour of the United States and Europe. Langstaff also developed an appreciation of folk music while attending a concert by song collector Douglas Kennedy, leading to a series of recordings of folk material in England. Langstaff simultaneously embarked on a teaching career, serving at the head of the music department at the Potomac School in Virginia for 13 years and at the Shady Hill School in Cambridge, Massachusetts for six. He also hosted television programs, including "Making Music" for the BBC and "Children Explore Books" for NBC.

In the mid-1950s, Langstaff brought together his multiple talents to create the Christmas Revels, a theatrical event that combined dance, song, and drama. For inspiration, he drew from pre-Christian celebrations of the solstice, incorporating the death and re-birth themes, and adding a carnival-like atmosphere. But while Langstaff's Revels reminded audiences of the season's origins, he also added a unique twist. Christ, whose death and rebirth mirrored many pagan myths, would also be woven into the Revels as the Lord of the Dance. The first performance of the Christmas Revels took place at New York City's Town Hall on December 29, 1957. While the event lost money, Langstaff's second performance at the Lisner Auditorium in Washington, D.C. took place before a sold-out crowd. In 1971 Langstaff and his daughter revived the Christmas Revels at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge, Massachusetts, establishing the production as an annual affair. Over time, the Christmas Revels would incorporate new traditions and receive simultaneous productions throughout the United States. ~ Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr., Rovi

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'90s, '00s