Hillsong Carols – Wembley Arena

You may remember last year that we attended the Hillsong Christmas concert at Wembley Arena and I was just a little bit obsessed with the daydream of someday playing with the London-based church. Well, it happened and it was brilliant!

For the past couple months, I’ve been making the trek to London for orchestra rehearsals and Creative Team nights. From my very first meeting, I was blown away at the kindness and talent of all the people I met. If you’ve ever experienced a Hillsong service or even just listened to some of their worship music, it’s apparent that this is unlike any other church or worship team you’ve ever seen. Everything they do is to a professional standard (if not higher) and they’re constantly striving to make it better. It’s pretty incredible to witness.

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This year, they hosted another concert at Wembley Arena and after weeks of rehearsals, the day had finally come. I caught the 7 am train from Cambridge in order to make the 9:30am call time. The stage crew had been working since the day before and I can’t even begin to fathom how they coordinated everything. Hundreds of musicians, singers and dancers had to be accommodated, plus lighting, videography, sound, effects, et cetera, et cetera. I get overwhelmed just thinking about it. So for the first few hours, the orchestra congregated in our dressing room and found ways to pass the time.

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In order to get backstage, we had to register as volunteers a few weeks before. Upon arrival, your name was checked off the list and you were given a badge and meal vouchers for the day then shown to the dressing room. We’d been given hair and make up instructions as well as wardrobe tear sheets so we would have a cohesive look. Since the stage wasn’t quite ready for us, we decided to bedazzle our nails with some bright red polish even though it wasn’t on the approved lists from the stylists. Yeah, we’re rebels like that.

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We’d been warned ahead of time to expect a lot of sitting around and waiting through out the day so we passed the time by running through a few songs and making sure all our bowings were matching. Wembley is fairly huge with a seating capacity of 12,500 seats so we were instructed to really embellish all our movements as it would be hard to see in such a large space. Definitely different than your average orchestra concert!

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Finally, it was time to go on stage for sound check and dress rehearsal. A few of us in each instrument section were mic’d and given in-ears. As you can imagine, it gets quite loud when everything finally comes together so without some sort of amplification, you would never hear the orchestra. We’d never be able to hear ourselves either. Since the stage is so large, there is also a click track that plays in your ear so all the musicians stay on beat together and can have cues on when to come in. It’s just been in the past couple years that I’ve gotten used to using in-ears while playing and I’m still quite in awe of how it all works. Violins have no frets so you play entirely by ear and normally, that feedback is immediate coming straight from the f-holes on your instrument. So in a larger, more electronic show, that immediate sound feedback isn’t there and it definitely takes some getting used to!

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After a quick dinner break, we had our final dress rehearsal and then it was time for the real deal. Everyone looked smart in their black clothes, sleek hair and red lips. While we waited for the cue to go on stage, we were reminded that this wasn’t a performance but rather a worship session. We want to bring our best to God as an offering and that’s what we were doing that night.

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It ended up being an incredible event and I’m ecstatic that so many people got to experience the nativity story in such a creative way. Lives were changed for the better as we all worshipped together with the gifts God gave us. If you’d like to see some clips from Carols at Wembley, this is a great YouTube video:

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