Holiday magic returns to Alice Millar with Chapel Choir, brass and orchestral ensembles concert


Angeli Mittal Daily Senior Staffer

Chapel Choir’s Festival of Lessons and Carols will take place in Alice Millar Chapel.

Lily Carey, Reporter

A longtime Northwestern holiday tradition will return Sunday when the Alice Millar Chapel Choir performs its annual Festival of Lessons and Carols concert.

This year’s concert will involve a holiday service at the Alice Millar Chapel and feature members of the choir, the Northwestern Philharmonia and the Millar Brass Ensemble performing carols from cultures around the world, including Polish, Latvian and Haitian pieces. 

Dr. Stephen Alltop, the director of music at the Alice Millar Chapel, said he’s excited to see the event’s holiday magic return to the chapel. The event was held virtually in 2020.

“We’ve been doing A Festival of Lessons and Carols for many decades, and it’s a particularly beloved event,” Alltop said. “Generally, the chapel is packed with people.” 

The tradition of Lessons and Carols itself originated with a production at King’s College in Cambridge over a century ago, and has since spread all over the world. The event typically consists of nine readings and choir and ensemble performances that accompany each reading. Alltop said the University has put on its own performance of this event for several decades. 

This year in particular, the choir, orchestra and brass ensembles are emphasizing variety in their musical choices. The program includes a diverse range of selections from different cultures, time periods and musical styles.

“The contrasting styles, I think, is the biggest thing that catches my eye. It’s not all just basic Christmas-type hymns,” said Drew Ritchie, the choir’s assistant conductor. “There’s slow, lush, beautiful, legato pieces, and then there’s a lot of high energy, fast, exciting, very polyphonic music.” 

Ritchie and Alltop agreed assembling such a complex program has required lots of time and effort from everyone involved. However, they both emphasized this year’s choir is an incredibly skilled group that has risen to the challenge.

Compared with other chapel choir concerts, the repertoire for an event like Lessons and Carols is especially large. Ritchie noted the ensemble has to learn many songs in a very short period of time, sometimes rehearsing eight to 12 different pieces in a single rehearsal. But Alltop said the group picked up this large selection with remarkable speed. 

The choir, which comprises NU students of all different years and schools, resumed in-person rehearsals at the beginning of Fall Quarter. Communication junior Sam Jenkins said returning to a normal rehearsal schedule has made the group even stronger.

“The day we all took off our masks for the first time, our sound tripled — it was incredible,” Jenkins said. “We have come together really fast as a group.”

The show this year will mark the first time many members of the choir, including Jenkins, have performed the event since 2019. 

With the Festival of Lessons and Carols right around the corner, choir members are excited to share their holiday spirit with the Evanston and NU communities, providing a new take on a long-standing tradition.

“We’re just here to make beautiful music and sing for people,” Jenkins said. “It’s such a great thing to give to the audience.”

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Twitter: @lilylcarey

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