Meredith College owes one to the climate gods. The bracing, wintry breezes of the late fall began to blow just in time so that the school's annual "Winterfest" program could not be considered a misnomer. There in Jones Auditorium, no fewer than five musical entities enhanced a resplendent Sunday afternoon. (The program was to be repeated later in the evening.) At three points in the program the audience was invited to sing along on old Christmas standards. If the vocal quality here was lacking, at least the volume was adequate. (Auditorium management should be commended in at least one respect. Too many times audiences are cast into Stygian darkness, unable to follow the program or read the helpful notes. In this case the just-right lighting would have pleased even Goldilocks.)
After welcoming the sizable turnout, Communications and Performing Arts Department Head Fran Page brought on the fifteen-member Meredith Chorus for three numbers. The discipline of these singers was enhanced by their having memorized the pieces. Brenda Fernandez's piano accompaniment was as vital here as any of the vocal parts. Following the serious "Fanfare" and "Alleluia" numbers, Santa hats capped their performance of the jazzy "Santa Baby."
A fixture on much of the program was the Sinfonietta of some fifty-plus instruments. Conductor Jim Waddelow had these players in fine tune with the obligatory "Sleigh Ride" of Leroy Anderson. Meredith alumna Katharine Micks added a pleasing mezzo, intoning "I'll Be Home for Christmas." Student conductor Erica Battles left her oboe chair to lead a "Sing We Now a Patapan" arrangement, and "Blue Christmas" was essentially a saxophone solo with orchestral backup. The printed program did not credit the able soloist, but a bit of research identified her as the Sinfonietta's own Alexis Chastain. The players were at their best and most dynamic with "Carol of the Bells." It speaks well of the institution's music instruction to note that these latter three pieces were arranged, respectively, by students Myriah Luke, Hailey Blount and Meredith Baysa.
The six voices of Encore! concluded that they should just "Let It Snow! Let It Snow!" before buckling down to the solemn "Lo How a Rose E'er Blooming." These performers, coached by DeMar Neal, were characterized by their a cappella singing and near-flawless harmony. Octavia! comprises four piano students, Chelsea Huber, Lily Stavish, Jessica Williford and Carly Zeugschmidt (eight hands, get it?). These gifted pianists, coached by Kent Lyman, worked in pairs for "Angels We Have Heard on High" and "Go Tell It on the Mountain."
Page came on again to conclude the festivities, leading the Meredith Chorale in the "Alleluia Incantation," a cappella and sung from memory, followed by Poulenc's version of "Ave Maria," with piano accompaniment and again without score. These twenty fine singers furnished a fresh approach to "The First Nowell" standard. In an arrangement by that bright-light contemporary composer Dan Forrest, they added a prelude and a postlude of sorts for a pleasing variation.
If Meredith had a "theme song," it would surely be the "Personent Hodie." This most ancient of masterpieces is usually rendered "On this day earth shall ring / With the song children sing…" Here, in the original Latin, the combined choirs joined with Meredith alumnae and the celebrated veteran organist W. David Lynch in an uplifting and altogether musical finale.