Christmas at Malone ushers in holiday spirit


The 2012 holiday season begins with the annual Christmas at Malone concert, presented by the University Chorale, Chamber Choir, Symphonic Band, and an orchestra of students and hired professional musicians.

The Chorale, conducted by David Donelson, practices walking up the isles while singing as part of the opera, Amahl and the Night Visitors. (Photo by Kaitie Fox)

This event will be junior social work student Janaya Schmidt’s third Christmas at Malone as a member of Chorale. Schmidt said that the theme for the 2012 Christmas program is “All is Well.”

“It’s kind of ironic, because the name of one of our pieces is ‘All is Well.’ It’s a really pretty song that we are actually no longer doing. It was cut because there were too many pieces and not enough time,” Schmidt said. “Apart from that, we’re singing some spirituals and doing Amahl and the Night Visitors, which is an opera. So that’s going to be a fully costumed piece with a musical feel, which is new for us.”

Preparation for Christmas at Malone began early for the Chorale.

“We do a few pieces just for the fall, but we really started Christmas pieces at the beginning of the school year,” Schmidt said.

When the choral ensembles and orchestra finally get together in the week before the show, they have a five hour walk-through of the entire program.

“It’s a lot of time all at once, because [the instrumental ensemble] rehearses so much and we rehearse so much, and then we come together to make sure all the timing is right,” Schmidt said. “We make sure we’re doing things the right way, and that we didn’t tweak anything and they didn’t tweak anything.”

Schmidt said that the performance weekend is a tiring one, but that the fun and excitement make the event well worthwhile.

“There’s so much adrenaline and it feels really exciting and special,” Schmidt said. “Just being a part of it and singing in it is really powerful. There’s just something about singing with 70 other voices and with an orchestra, especially at that time of the year.”

Before the Christmas at Malone weekend, the Chorale gets together for a tree trimming party. The musicians put up lights, enjoy hot chocolate, and spend time preparing.

“[The whole weekend] is definitely a time of bonding, even though we might not realize it in the moment. We always look back and have such good memories from Christmas at Malone,” Schmidt said.

Schmidt explained one special tradition that the students in Chorale have during Christmas at Malone.

“Guys always wear black ties [for performances]. For Christmas at Malone only, though, they wear red bow ties, and all of the girls wear red lipstick,” Schmidt said, “That’s the one time of year that we’re allowed to get a little bit extravagant.”

Cynthia Wohlschlager gives directions to the Chorale concerning the choreography and emotional motivation during the opera. (Photo by Kaitie Fox)

Professor of Music David Donelson is the director of the University Chorale and Chamber Choir. As the artistic director of Christmas at Malone, Donelson has crafted the program into the event it is today.

“Malone has presented a Christmas concert, per se, featuring the music department, for many years. But it was about four years ago that it became a much bigger deal.”

Donelson said that the event used to be a free performance on one night. Over the course of four years, it has grown to include specific themes and elaborate decorations, and now involves three nights of performances.

“That was one of the reasons I came to Malone. I had done something similar where I worked before,” Donelson said. “As the artistic director, I gave it a lot of thought and really helped the department and the university see that it could be bigger than it was, and really have a much broader outreach into the community.”

Donelson said that the growth of the program has also brought along some unique challenges.

“More students are involved and the technical aspects of it have become much more involved, yet we’re still performing in the same space: the sanctuary of the Johnson Center,” Donelson said. “So we have to be creative and make sure that everybody fits and that our message is able to be seen by all, and not get lost in the technicality of the whole event.”

Donelson said that the format for the 2012 program is different from past events. The second half will include the presentation of Amahl and the Night Visitors, a one-act opera.

“Amahl is a little disabled boy, and the story is about him and his mother and what happens when the three wise men stop at their home when they go to see the Christ Child. It’s a very heartwarming story,” Donelson said. “It’s a wonderful way to introduce opera to the community because it’s really accessible.”

Donelson said that before each performance, the Chorale and Chamber Choir gather together in a circle.

“I remind them to give it 100% and then we spend time in prayer. Many students lead out in prayer and we ask that the message we have prepared will come through to the audiences, that audiences will leave feeling somehow better or transformed, and that we accomplished what we set out to accomplish.”

For Donelson, part of that accomplishment comes from hearing the students speak about their experiences.

“I love it when students talk about how meaningful it is to them, or when I hear an upperclassman talking to a freshman about it, telling them how exciting it is and how much they’re going to love being a part of it,” Donelson said. “To me, that’s really wonderful and really makes it all worthwhile.”

“All is Well” will take place in the Johnson Center Sanctuary at 7:30 p.m. on November 30 and December 1, and 3 p.m. on December 2. Tickets are free to students, $10 for general admission, and $7 for seniors age 60 and older, and are available for purchase online.

Kim Farkas is a staff writer for The Aviso AVW.

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