If you don't arrive early at Calvary Baptist Church's 2013 Christmas Cantata, there's a good chance you won't get to see it.

If you don't arrive early at Calvary Baptist Church's 2013 Christmas Cantata, there's a good chance you won't get to see it.

That's because the program, which has averaged 1,000 guests the last few years, has been so popular that it's had to turn guests away due to overcrowding. So guests are encouraged to show up at least a half hour before show time to ensure they'll get a seat or space to stand.

Calvary Baptist Church will present its annual Cantata on Saturday. The free event, which began in the late '90s and has been going on for nearly every year since, is a holiday-themed production that also encompasses gospel tunes. Saturday's production will feature 80 performers that include the church's choir, praise dancers, drama ministry, its house band and orchestra.

Dion LeMon, the conductor of the Cantata, spoke to the Dover Post about why the concert has been so stellar the past few years, how the program's minister of music (Henry Greene) has been instrumental in the success of the program, the theme of this year's concert, and more.

Q Give us a preview of what guests will experience during Saturday's Cantata.

A The concert will feature Calvary Baptist's combined choir of approximately 50-plus members. We'll sing approximately 11 songs, and many of the songs will include our full orchestra. This year we'll have one of the largest orchestras we've ever had. Usually we have about 15. But I think we have about 17 this year. We'll have instruments such as violins, violas, cellos and bass. I have some great connections with musicians around this area, and even with those involved with the Newark Symphony and Kennett Square Orchestra. It's wonderful. Most of our music is holiday or Christmas-themed, and we also throw some gospel in there so people can enjoy both genres of music. The program will include our praise dancers. Our praise dancers will actually accompany our choir and orchestra on two of our numbers. There will even be a few spots where some of our drama ministry will do a small portion during our songs to dramatize a particular event or theme in one of the songs.

Q How do the songs in this show fit around the Cantata's theme of "God With Us"?

A The first song we're doing is "Total Praise," and we'll be praising God. Then the second song we're doing is "God is Able." So many people are going through so many different things, especially during the holiday season. It's unfortunate, but the holiday season isn't one of the best times for people. I just lost my grandmother last month. And the holidays are particularly difficult for some people who have financial problems. So I think it's our job as Christians to remind and encourage people that God is with us in everything we do.

Q Why do you think the Cantata has remained so popular over the years?

A You're going to hear songs that will encourage and uplift and that you'll enjoy. It's also visually stunning. I think the other major thing that's a draw is I don't think there are any other churches around here that actually have a full orchestra and choir performance for free. We could easily charge $30 or $50 for the quality and level of musicianship we bring at Calvary. And that comes from Henry Greene, our minister of music. He sets high standards for us, and everyone in our church falls in line.

Q How has Henry been instrumental in the success of this program?

A He's selfless. Not only is he a great person to be our leader, but he's an important part of this church, and not just in the music department. He helps with the soup kitchen, and he does it all. He's the one who holds things together. He gives me the freedom to do what I need to do, musically, which is a blessing, because there are some [churches] where it might be like a power struggle [between the minister of music and conductor]. But it's not like that here.

Q Why will this Cantata be the best yet?

A I always tell the choir that the songs should minister to us first before we can minister or touch someone else's heart. And I believe these pieces this year really ministered to all of us individually in different ways, more so than many other years. But I'd be wrong to say this would be the best Cantata because I think we go through different things in life, and right now this concert will be what we need to do at this point in time. The year before, the Capital Ringers were a part of our performance, and that was incredible. But that was for that particular time. Now we're here in 2013 and I think that this is what we're supposed to be doing. This show is what we're destined to do right now.


WHAT Calvary Baptist Church's 2013 Christmas Cantata

WHEN 6 p.m., Saturday

WHERE Calvary Baptist Church, Del. Route 8 W. Forrest Ave., Dover

COST Free admission; freewill offering will be accepted

INFO Visit calvarybaptistdover.org or call 736-6095