November 7, 2022 at 10:15am

Vespers, from the Latin vespera, meaning evening. And later, from the Old French, for evensong. By the 15th and 16th centuries in the Anglican, Lutheran, Catholic and Orthodox Christian traditions, the term had come to signify evening prayers. At Millikin University, Vespers has become synonymous with singing and fellowship, and most of all, a gathering of the community during the holiday season.  

Begun in 1959 as a small concert in Albert Taylor Theatre performed to an audience of 127 by the University Choir, the local children’s choir from Westminster Presbyterian Church, and several members of the art department, Vespers has since grown into the premiere holiday tradition of Central Illinois. Attendees join the Millikin and Decatur community from surrounding towns and neighboring cities. Participants begin their rehearsals in August. And when the lights are lowered, the magic begins.

This year’s program includes classical, choral modern, gospel, and traditional selections. As there will be no broadcasting of the event on WAND-TV this year, the lighting and staging will be at its theatrical best for all four performances:


Saturday, December 3 | 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Sunday, December 4 | 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.


Musical selections have been chosen with care to strike a range of tones from the somber to the triumphant. Hymns, carols, chants and classical orchestrations are all represented, and new attendees may be surprised by how much Vespers differs from the typical choral concert. Incorporating movement, lights and scenery to create a theatrical experience that engages and inspires, this feast of the senses is by design.

The former Director of Choral Music at Millikin, Richard “Dick” Hoffland, who staged the first Vespers in 1959 with his wife Kathryne “Kay” Hoffland, herself an accompanist and the eventual assistant director of choral music, wanted to incorporate artistic elements that would distinguish Vespers as unique. As a team, they nurtured and grew Vespers from a purely classical program to include a variety of different types of music and choral styles, as well as innovative special effects like falling snow and floating Christmas trees. In 1971, when the concert moved from the intimate setting of Albert Taylor Theatre to the larger and more versatile venue of the Kirkland Fine Arts Center, even more ambitious staging and lighting designs became possible.

The Hofflands’ stewardship oversaw the growth of Vespers into a “town and gown” seasonal celebration. When the Hofflands retired in 1991, Brad Holmes took the helm as the Director of Choral Music and the Artistic Director of Vespers. His wife Beth Holmes also joined the School of Music, conducting the Millikin Women, serving on the voice faculty and becoming the artistic director of the Millikin University Children & Youth Choir Program. Under the direction of the Holmeses, Vespers continued to grow in new directions. More physically demanding elements were added to the program, as well as theatrical surprises and reveals.

After presiding over Vespers and the choral program at Millikin University for nearly three decades — a tenure as long and as successful as their predecessors’ — the Holmeses passed the baton in 2021. The School of Music honored their contributions to Vespers and the community with a tribute send-off in May of 2022 and made way for the new director to take the helm.

Current Director of Choral Music and Artistic Director of Vespers Ben Hawkinson, who holds a doctorate in choral conducting and has taught at Millikin since 2019, has ably taken command of the choral program with a profound respect for what Vespers has been and will be:

"There is nothing quite like the Millikin Vespers. The lights, movement and music make this an event that encourages reflection and introspection as we enter the holiday season. It is truly an honor to be trusted with such an important institution as the third director, in this, Vespers’ 63rd year. I am excited to share this program with the community and offer our theme, Into the Morning.”

In keeping with an accidental tradition of the role, his wife Aubrey Hawkinson also teaches in the School of Music as a voice instructor and adjunct faculty member. Their combined expertise bodes well for the students’ choral and professional development, as well as the future of Vespers. This year’s Vespers program also includes conducting and contributions from Visiting Instructor Nate Widelitz, who joins Millikin University most recently from the Yale, where he is pursuing his Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA).

Vespers remains an extraordinary cornerstone of the holiday season in Decatur, and the Millikin University School of Music is pleased to welcome the community to Kirkland Fine Arts Center for two days of conviviality and choral excellence. It is our honor to continue the celebration that the Hoffland’s began with this signature event. We can’t wait to share this beloved performance of evensong with all of you.

Tickets are $12 // $14 // $16 // children under 12, $10.


Senior Citizen (65+), current military, veterans and Millikin University faculty, staff and alumni discounts are available by calling the ticket office at 217.424.6318.


Purchase tickets now at or by calling or visiting the ticket office, open Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.


Kirkland Fine Arts Center

1184 W Main Street

Decatur, IL 62522


Phone: 217.424.6318



Additional programming offered by the Kirkland Fine Arts Center can be found at

About Kirkland Fine Arts Center

Kirkland Fine Arts Center is located on the Millikin University campus in Decatur, Illinois. Since its grand opening in 1970, Kirkland Fine Arts Center has played an integral part in continuing the arts in Decatur and central Illinois. The center is home to a 1,903-seat auditorium and houses several music and choral facilities, lecture halls, art galleries and other multipurpose rooms. Kirkland Fine Arts Center has brought in many nationally acclaimed musical tours including Rent, 42nd Street, Grease, Godspell, Side by Side, Jesus Christ Superstar, Evita, Cats and many others. World-renowned entertainers such as Trace Adkins, Duke Ellington, Ray Charles, Little Richard, Vicki Lawrence and others have also performed at the center. Visit to learn more.

About the Millikin University School of Music

The mission of the School of Music is to develop the whole musician – artistically, intellectually, technically – through the integration of theory and practice in an environment where students become active learners through their relationships with faculty, who themselves continue to grow as artists, scholars, and teachers.

Millikin's nationally recognized School of Music brings relevant, performance-based opportunities to all facets of undergraduate music education. With five distinctive music degree programs and additional certificate options, our students find their path to professional success through a blending of creative, performative, scholarly, and entrepreneurial experiences designed to train the next generation of music professionals. The School of Music also offers multiple opportunities for Millikin students to get involved in over seven ensembles. Students do not need to be a music major or minor to be involved. Visit to learn more.

About Millikin University

Millikin is a private, not-for-profit, four-year university with an enrollment of approximately 2,000 students in traditional and non-traditional undergraduate and graduate degree programs. Located in Decatur, Illinois, you will quickly discover that the signature of a Millikin education is a unique experience we like to call Performance Learning.

Since its founding more than 120 years ago, Millikin has operated under the philosophy of providing an education that combines theory with practice. While this was a radical idea at the time, we know today that students must perform their knowledge in order to be truly prepared for a successful career after college. Through immersive experiences such as internships, co-teaching, running a business, presenting research to experts and performing in front of audiences, students find new ways to live out their learning and reap the rewards of their hard work. Visit to learn more.

For further information, please contact LJ Pemberton, Marketing and Patron Relations Manager at Kirkland Fine Arts Center at 217.424.3931 or