Talk of the Towne
Chapman University

When Dr. William Hall recalls the first Wassail held at Chapman University, the founder of the school’s long-standing seasonal concert chuckles.

“Forty-nine years ago during our first concert, we tried to make `snowflakes’ drift from the balcony by throwing Rice-A-Roni, but it sounded like rocks falling onstage and everyone burst into laughter,” says Hall, who ran the event for 47 years until 2010. Each year, he conducted the Chapman choirs and chamber orchestra in Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus at the conclusion of the concert.

In 1963 when Hall joined Chapman, college officials requested that he start a Christmas music program that would benefit the City of Orange. Hall obliged and presented the first Wassail with a skeleton crew of 16 singers. Today what has become one of Orange County’s oldest continuing holiday traditions features about 200 performers for the two-night event presented by the Chapman University Conservatory of Music. The University Choir and University Singers are conducted by Dr. Stephen Coker, the University Women’s Choir by Dr. Angel Vázquez-Ramos and Daniel Alfred Wachs conducts the Chapman University Chamber Orchestra.

Open to the public, the Wassail can be enjoyed in conjunction with a banquet or you can just attend the concert, says Dale Merrill, Dean of the College of Performing Arts. “The dinner features someone from the Chapman family reading a Christmas story, which is a nice touch,” he says. “And the concert is an all-American kind of event that you don’t have to be of any particular faith to enjoy,” he says. “A wide spectrum of music is represented, and there are even parts where you can sing along, which is really fun.”

Wassail is a contraction of the Middle English greeting wæs hæil, which means “be healthy.” The name was given to a spiced hot punch or mulled ale that became popular during the medieval period and wassailing is still a tradition in Britain, where groups of carolers are given food and drink by those they visit. In keeping with the ancient tradition, according to Hall the second year of the Wassail they tried serving a dish respective of the medieval period, “but the wild boar turned out to be horrendous,” he says, so they went back to serving modern day chicken as an entree instead.

Attend the Wassail and you will not only enjoy a concert and tasty meal, you’ll also experience a traditional Wassail drink and walk a garden path lighted with luminaries while listening to the tunes of strolling minstrels.

The 49th Annual Holiday Wassail will be held Dec. 7th and 8th. The reception and dinner is located in the Fish Interfaith Center and the concert in the Chapman Auditorium, Memorial Hall. Tickets are $65 per person, which includes the reception, dinner and concert. Dinner is at 6 pm and the concert takes place at 8 pm. Concert-only tickets are available for $20 general admission; $15 senior citizens and non-Chapman students and $10 for the CU community.

For ticket information, visit Chapman.edu, or call the Chapman University Ticket Office at 714-997-6812.

Published in the Nov/Dec 2012 edition of the Old Towne Orange Plaza Review

Written by Julie Bawden-Davis, Photograph provided by Chapman University

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