After a two-year hiatus, the Tudor Holiday Dinners filled Memorial Union’s Great Hall with feasts and festivities Nov. 30 to Dec. 4.
The old English-themed event began in 1938 and was later joined by the Philharmonic Chorus of Madison in 1946. Each year, the event includes traditional tudor dinner music — such as “Wassail” and “The Boar’s Head” introductions — as well as a mix of traditional Christmas carols and an hour-long concert of choral music following the meal. In listening to the choir practice, there was no doubt that talent abounded in the group as the holiday compositions echoed through the domed ceilings at the top of Memorial Union.
This year, the choir was under new direction by Claire Malinowski, who has a Master’s Degree in music education and choral direction from the University of Colorado and currently teaches choir at Messmer High School in Milwaukee. In an interview, Malinowski described conducting this adult choir for the first time as welcoming, beneficial and fun.
“It is a choir filled with long traditions, and they are all very welcoming and ready to teach me. I think the most important thing for a group that has such long traditions is that they are also ready to experience something new if needed,” said Malinowski. “It is really beneficial for everybody because there are people who have been here for so long, but a quarter of the choir is new, so that keeps it fresh and very fun.”
The event’s traditions are long-standing and have been maintained by group members, many of whom have returned for more than 10 seasons. Kelly Wroblewski, a member of the Philharmonic Chorus of Madison, said “One group came in together and said, ‘between us, we have 150 years worth of experience’ because they've been doing it for 50 years each.”
When asked about her favorite part of the two and a half hour show, Malinowski had a difficult time narrowing down the performance to just one aspect.
“My favorite part of singing through the whole show is being able to spot when it is someone's favorite part. I have the pleasure of seeing all the faces light up when it is their favorite song,” said Malinowski.
But in relation to music, Malinowski said, “There are two songs, ‘Jesus Christ the Apple Tree’ and 'Alleluia’ and both of which I have wanted to do with a choir. So almost selfishly, this choir is giving me that gift of fulfilling that desire to work with a choir and have them be able to sing it so well.”
After auditioning, adults aged 18 or older practice every Monday evening for three hours from Labor Day until the date of the performances as a mixed group of voices ranging from soprano to bass. As the Philharmonic Chorus of Madison is a non-profit organization, all participants volunteer their time outside their varying occupations for the love of music, the holidays and the group itself. For college students who participate, there are scholarship opportunities available each year.
Wroblewski has been performing as an alto with the choir for 27 years after attending the event as a guest in 1994. Wroblewski’s favorite part of the evening is being able to connect with the audience as the meal takes place.
“We break up into smaller groups and go around and serenade one table at a time,” Wroblewski said. “We get to talk with them and hear them say how much fun they are having and wish them a happy holiday and sing a little bit and then move on to the next table.”
The Great Hall is decorated by the event staff with a variety of holiday decor, which encompasses the cheer and warmth the choir brings. The food and drink of the event is provided by the Memorial Union catering team and includes maple glazed pork tenderloin or acorn squash, flaming figgy pudding and plenty of wassail — or hot apple cider — to go around. Though the concert lasts from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m., hors d'oeuvres are served an hour before the event.
If this festive event entices you, be on the lookout for tickets next holiday season since the venue sold out this year — tickets are $65 to$85 for non-union members. You can catch the Philharmonic Chorus of Madison even sooner at their Spring Concert.