Because of COVID-19, a lot of holiday traditions look different this year: The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, trips to visit Santa at the mall, ringing in the New Year at Times Square. Add to that list one of NAU’s longest-running traditions: the School of Music’s Holiday Dinner Concert.
The last time revelers didn’t gather on NAU campus to share a meal and hear holiday classics sung by NAU vocal students was 1974. This year, they’ll have to do so from home.
“It began as a sit-down dinner by invitation only for 300 patrons as a thank-you for their support of the choral program,” said Edith A. Copley, who is directing her 30th Holiday Dinner Concert this year.
Nowadays, Copley oversees a four-night program that raises money for student scholarships.
“Typically, the DuBois Center ballroom is decorated with 15-foot Christmas trees, banners, lit garlands, three stages for the 240 singers and special lighting provided by the theatre department,” she said. “And the singers serve all the food.”
This year though, the show will look much different. Fellow choral director Ryan Holder has been working to record all of the performances, which will be streamed to an audience Dec. 6.
“It’s a lot of work ahead of time,” he said. “Normally we’d be doing dress rehearsals, but we’ve already recorded.”
Getting this and other choral performances recorded has been tricky this semester. Before each rehearsal, singers have their temperatures taken and use hand sanitizer. They are masked and stand six to eight feet apart. Practices were shortened to allow large HEPA filters time to clean the air between each class.
“A lot of my colleagues in other places besides NAU have no chance to make music,” Holder said. “They’re all on Zoom online.”
The steps have proven successful as not a single choir member came down with COVID-19.
While individual choirs have been able to practice and perform virtually throughout the semester thanks to an array of precautions, there is one tradition that required some special work.
The night normally ends with Choral Union performances that bring all members of the choirs on stage for the final songs.
“It’s too big to sing together with the COVID-19 precautions in place, so students sent individual video recordings of the two selections that traditionally end the program,” Copley said. “‘Candlelight Carol’ and ‘Still, Still, Still’ will be virtual choirs.”
Even with the changes, the faculty felt it important to keep the tradition alive.
“It is about tradition. Trying to maintain that during these difficult times is important for NAU, our Choral Union and our alumni,” Holder said. “This marks the start of the holiday season for many people.”
The unique presentation of the annual Holiday Dinner Show will likely be Copley’s last. She intended to retire in May but stayed on for one more year at the school’s request.
“This is kind of my last holiday dinner, and it’s been a challenge to do it virtually, but I’m extremely pleased and appreciative of all the work the students have done to make it happen,” she said.
Tickets for the one-time live stream event are $20 and can be purchased online.