SU Madrigal Singers hold annual Christmas dinner

SU’s Madrigal Singers keep tradition strong and lively with its annual Christmas dinner performance. The dinner concert was first introduced in the 1970s.

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas with a little help from the Shippensburg University Madrigal Singers.

The harmonious sound of singing voices and the aroma of mouth-watering food filled Old Main as the Madrigal Singers hosted their annual Christmas dinner on Friday and Saturday evening.

The room buzzed with excitement prior to the dinner concert, capturing the hustle and bustle of Christmastime. The tables were full and the well-dressed audience was eager to enjoy a night of music and fellowship.

To kick off the night the Madrigal Singers opened with “We Need a Little Christmastime” and swiftly moved around the guests seated at the round tables, creating an interactive experience.

“Wassail Song” was next and Madrigal Singers director Elizabeth Shoenfelt encouraged the audience to pick up their glasses of wassail and make a toast to fellowship during the song. Wassail is a spiced ale or mulled wine drink that individuals commonly drink to celebrate Christmas. However, the clanging of the glasses did not take the shine away from the singers — rather, they sounded as if they belonged in the song.

Shoenfelt called the annual Madrigal Singers’ Christmas dinner a “time-honored tradition.” 

Blaine Shover, a professor of music at SU and the recently retired director of the Madrigal Singers, started the Christmas dinners in the 1970s. After the dinners took a brief hiatus, they reemerged in the ’90s and have been held every year since.

During the dinner some of the 21 Madrigal Singers showcased their individual talent by performing solos and duets. The songs ranged from classic Christmas hymns like “O, Holy Night” to more modern Christmas tunes like “Believe” by Josh Groban from “The Polar Express.” The clanging silverware and soft conversation was mere background noise as students belted out their songs.

The lights dimmed low and accentuated the blue lights of the large Christmas tree on the stage as the Madrigal Singers began their concert program following the dinner. The concert portion proved more formal and serious than the lighthearted introductory songs as the singers stood in place and glanced back and forth from their sheet music to the audience and to the cues given by their director.

“Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” by Ralph Vaughan Williams, a piece dated back to the Middle Ages, was the first song the Madrigal Singers performed in their concert portion. The pace quickened by the third song, “Sing We Now of Christmas,” which was performed acapella. 

The crowd erupted into applause after each song, and after the singers performed the Spanish piece, “A La Nanita Nana,” Shoenfelt warned the audience, “If our next two pieces don’t get you in the mood for Christmas, I’m afraid there’s no hope for you.” 

The joyful songs Shoenfelt warned of were, “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” and “The Christmas Song.” 

The audience then joined in with the Madrigal Singers for a brief sing-along for a few songs with sheet music that was provided at each table before the singers descended the stage during “White Christmas.”

Before the two closing songs, Shoenfelt expressed her thanks. 

“We look forward to this event every year,” she said. “Take this as a blessing from us to you.”

Jenna Walton, a senior Madrigal Singer opened “Til the Season Comes Round Again” with a capturing solo, which was followed by a solo by senior Jacob Foster before the two sang together in a melodious duet. 

The singers spread out around the perimeter of the room — surrounding the audience and creating an immersive atmosphere for them. As the singers closed their final song, “Benediction,” the audience began to pop up in a standing ovation and the room roared with thunderous applause. 

“Thank you and have a wonderful holiday season,” Shoenfelt said to the attendees, as the lights were brought up and the singers reunited with friends and family.

After the dinner concert, guests not only left with full bellies, but also with hearts full of Christmas cheer. Hopefully the performance can tie them over until next year.

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