45th Annual Renaissance Feast takes a look back

Submitted Photo Matt and Teresa Hargrove and recorder player Courtney Pederson rehearse a court dance for the Minot Chamber Chorale’s Renaissance Christmas Feast.

Lords and Ladies, both past and present, will gather as the Minot Chamber Chorale presents its 45th annual Renaissance Christmas Feast Nov. 30, Dec. 1-2 at the Holiday Inn-Riverside. In celebration of its 45th production, the Chorale has extended an invitation to alumni members of the Chorale to attend one of the three performances and to be warmly recognized.

“Recognizing the great gift that past performers have given the community seems like a natural gesture in this 45th year,” said director Robert Demke. “We’re a total sum of the vision and effort of those who came before us. We thank all for sharing their talents.”

A Renaissance dinner is a musical genre that transports audiences to an era where lords, ladies, jesters, dancers, and musicians celebrate the Christmas season according to the Yuletide traditions of Elizabethan England. A three-course dinner features wassail toasts, a savory entree, and dessert, each heralded by a brass fanfare and traditional carol.

Chorale founder Hardy Lieberg brought the Renaissance Christmas Feast to Minot in 1973. Since then, the Chorale sought to make the feast the kick-off event of the Christmas season.

“All of the ingredients we needed were present at the time,” said Sandra Starr, a former Chorale director and an original cast member. “Music was chosen from the Renaissance period, along with some traditional carols and some contemporary. A Renaissance recorder consort began practicing. A brass ensemble got going. Ron Wineteer took on the role as production coordinator, and Emmy Curtis and Julianne Wallin took the lead in making sure all the costumes were ‘period.’ We all made sure that it was put together with polish and class.”

Transforming a convention ballroom into a castle hall is a yearly challenge that has reliably been led by Chorale veteran Chuck Weiser.

“It involves many hours of loading and unloading the set pieces, securing them in place, and then decorating the hall. It’s a team effort,” Weiser said.

Returning for his 23rd year as Lord of the Manor will be Eric Furuseth, who also serves as script writer. Pamela Hopkins-Cornwell will portray the Lady of the Manor for the ninth time.

“The script, both in its comic and its sentimental sections, will include a number of references to past members, such as Hardy, Julianne, David Kjos, Brian Briggs, and many others,” Furuseth said.

Highlighting each evening will be Chorale members, past and present, lifting their voices in Silent Night.

“I’m glad that we still close out each show with the whole room singing Silent Night,” said Mary Muhlbradt, who directs the recorder consort. “A number of productions around the country have begun to shy away from clearly religious songs. We’ve stuck with tradition, and I think many people appreciate that.”

Chorale members say they’re looking forward to greeting past members and sharing stories about bygone feasts, particularly the moments when a performance didn’t go as planned.

“We’ve used tapered candles on stage whenever possible,” Weiser said. “One year a lit candle caught the veil of a costume and caught fire. Fortunately someone was able to grab a glass of water and put it out. That’s when we starting putting fire extinguishers on the set.”

Furuseth recalls a faux paus attributable to extreme nearsightedness. “I felt the lord should not have glasses so I played the part nearly blind,” he said. “Once, when we took the show to Minot Air Force Base, I was to make a toast to the commanding officer and I lifted my glass in the direction I perceived was the head table and made a speech. We all toasted and the room resounded with “drinkhail!” Then came the commander’s reply – from behind me. I spun around madly as the crowd roared. Since then I have had lasik surgery.”

To support the celebratory mood of the event, Demke has programmed some stirring music, including “Gloria,” by American composer Randol Alan Bass. Composed for the New York Pops Orchestra, it’s become one of the most critically acclaimed works written for the holiday season, with multi-metric, dance-like rhythms contrasted with passages of warm, melodic lyricism. The piece is a tour de force for the Chorale’s pianist, Rita Sundahl.

Other selections include an up-tempo spiritual, “Mary Had a Baby,” “Sweeter Still: A Holiday Carol,” “The Darkest Midnight in December,” “The First Noel” with violin obbligato, and “Love Came Down at Christmas,” written for voices, piano and oboe.

A brass ensemble, directed by Pat Schwan will play a mini-concert of festive music during the 6 p.m. social hour. Audience members may partake in beverages and shop the chorale’s unique silent auction. Then at 7 p.m. the Lords and Ladies will proceed into the hall, dressed in their Renaissance finery.

Tickets are $49 for adults and $20 for children under 13. A $5 discount is available for members of the military and for groups of 14 or more. For reservations, call 441-3094.