Mountain Madrigal Singers ring in Christmas
In the hectic holiday season, the Mountain Madrigals holiday choir offers tradition and small town charm.
“This is not commercial. This is personal. It’s what keeps me sane during this stressful time of year,” said Cliff Keen, a tenor with the group for 19 years. “People are so scattered, and there’s so much going on, this is what brings us together.”
Now in its 36th season, the donation-based free event is open to everyone, though it’s wise to show up early if you want a seat at the United Methodist Church at Ninth and Cooper in Glenwood Springs. Performances take place at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 9, 11, and 17.
In recent years the choir has dialed back on side performances to focus on the quality and accessibility of their main event.
“We have something that works, and it works really well,” Keen said. I think we’re performing the best we ever have.”
Currently, the event features 21 singers plus the director, a small lighting and sound crew and a few musicians — including, for the first time, accomplished pianist Jonathan Gorst. There’s a competitive auditioning process for the solos, and the posters are designed through a competition among Colorado Mountain College and high school graphic arts classes.
It’s the consistency of the core group that really makes the choir click. Baritone Steve Shute has been a member for three decades now, and he’s not the only one.
“You don’t just walk in and decide you’re going to do this for 30 years,” he observed. “Instead you look back and wonder how it happened.”
“For a little teeny town to have this kind of choir is hard to believe,” he added. “It’s a big splashy deal. 1,600 or 2,000 people come see us.”
Putting all their voices together on a consistent basis requires months of rehearsal.
“About half of our pieces are a capella. That’s flying without a wire — it’s just you,” Shute said. “This is really different, challenging, unbelievably beautiful music.”
It’s not all madrigals or even Christmas music, though. This year’s theme is “Ring in Christmas,” but the lineup includes some bluegrass, gospel, and a rendition of “Text me Merry Christmas” in addition to Ave Maria and a medley of carols.
“You have music you can pull from the last thousand years. We do old music, but we also do modern music,” said singer Sharon Young. “It’s really a variety show.”
Young is a member of the music committee and helped choose the music months ago.
“We meet on an evening in June and listen to Christmas music until well after dark to choose the pieces we’re going to do,” she explained. “We try to create a program that’s fun for the audience and also fun for the singers.”
The variety is important to keep it interesting for perennial attendees — including some out of towners who plan their trips accordingly — as well as potential newcomers.
“It’s always interesting to me to see high school or CMC kids in the audience,” Young said. “I think they’re usually pretty surprised what they get.”
That’s particularly true when you consider that everyone involved is volunteering their time.
“This is hours and hours of highly skilled labor people are giving away,” she said.