NEWARK, Calif. (Christian Examiner) – In less than a week, more than 3.5 million people have seen and heard the "Star Wars Christmas Lights" on www.youtube.com
In the video, the exterior of an unpretentious suburban home becomes the stage for a visual adaptation of some of the most familiar songs of the Star Wars franchise. More than 100,000 over-bright LED lights and 12,500 channels are used to pulsate the lights to the beat of the music.
Tom BetGeorge is the man behind the lights and music. He earns a living as a music teacher at the elite COVA – Conservatory of Vocal and Instrumental Arts – charter school in Oakland, California, and bivocationally is director of contemporary worship at Centerville Presbyterian Church in Fremont, California.
"I find it funny that people say things like, 'What does that have to do with Christmas?'," Bet George said on the youtube site. "In all reality, what do any of our traditions have to do with Christmas? ... I do this because it brings families together to enjoy something for free while raising thousands of dollars for those who are in need."
BetGeorge invites people who like the light show to send donations to Centerville Presbyterian Church to help with a free dining ministry to the homeless and needy in the Fremont, Newark, Union City area. He even has set up a Paypal account for ease of giving.
The dining ministry, now in its 26th years, provides about 250 widely-varied hot meals a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays. The church budgets $30,000 a year for the ministry. The light show is bringing in about $1,000 a night, said senior pastor Greg Roth.
"We'll see how long this goes," Roth told Christian Examiner. "The light show goes through New Years."
In addition to programming the lights to correlate with the music, BetGeorge also built all the props, using wood, metal, acrylic and corrugated plastic. The piano is 17 feet long; the guitar, 19 feet. A drum set is actual size.
"Tom is immensely creative," Roth said. "What makes his light show work is that it's very simple. It's all choreographed to music; it brings out his skill as a director and a musician."
Despite the number of lights, because they're LED the cost for electricity is about $100 for the month of December, BetGeorge said. It takes about 10 hours of programming for each minute of music.
Among the musical works are the Star Wars main title and the Arrival at Naboo, Duel of the Fates, Across the Stars, Battle of the Heroes, The Imperial March, Victory Celebration and more. He took care that none of the "light saber" or other effects do not shine into the homes of neighbors or a, and he usually only plays five songs a night – fewer if traffic gets too heavy.
"Honestly, it's a little surreal; it's humbling," BetGeorge said to Yahoo News. "I anticipated that a lot of people would like 'Star Wars,' but I didn't expect it to blow up like it has."
About 500 people participate in Sunday morning worship at Centerville Presbyterian. Other ministries of the church include tutoring three afternoons a week, a community youth choir, and a bridge-building ministry to the 20,000 Afghans who live in the Fremont area.