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Lafayette music ensembles will usher in the holiday season with three presentations of “A Lafayette Christmas” Saturday and Sunday, Dec. 2 and 3, at the Williams Center for the Arts.

Lafayette’s Concert Choir, Madrigal Singers, Faculty and Staff Chamber Choir, and Orchestra will present performances at 2 p.m. Saturday and at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday. The shows are free and open to the public. No tickets are required. For information, call the Williams Center box office, (610) 330-5009.

At the conclusion of each concert, audience members are invited to join in a traditional carol sing-along and enjoy refreshments in the lobby.

The Lafayette choirs are directed by Nina Gilbert, director of choral activities. The orchestra is directed by Marka Young. Their approach is consistent with the music department’s goal of offering enriching opportunities for both novices and experienced student musicians.

“We already know that Lafayette students are extremely intelligent,” Gilbert says. “It’s exciting to show Lafayette students how to apply their intelligence to music.

“Most of our music has something familiar and also something unfamiliar about it,” Gilbert says. “We have a new arrangement of “Silent Night,” for example, that surrounds and caresses the melody with counterpoints by voices and instruments. We have a thousand year-old Gregorian chant about lights and the Magi, and we sing it for our candlelight processional. We have a piece by a Nigerian-Canadian teenager — a double chorus, assisted by our Faculty/Staff Chamber Choir — and it sounds like rich cathedral music.

“I love when audience members tell us that we’ve introduced them to something beautiful that is new to them,” Gilbert continues. “I do a lot of research to find the right music for each concert. The choir is like a lab, sharing these discoveries with our listeners.”

All students are welcome to participate in the Concert Choir, whose major annual performances are “A Lafayette Christmas” and a spring concert. As the official musical voice of Lafayette, the choir also sings at College events throughout the year, from athletic events to ceremonies and dedications. The choir’s repertoire ranges from 9th-century plainchant to 21st-century premieres, including music from classical, folk, and Spiritual traditions.

The Madrigal Singers are a chamber choir selected by audition from the Concert Choir. Its repertoire, from medieval carols to 20th-century jazz, highlights the diverse strengths of the participants.

Gilbert holds a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Stanford University, a Master of Music degree from Indiana University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in music from Princeton universities. She came to Lafayette this year from the University of California, Irvine, where she was lecturer in the department of music and served in a variety of roles. She also taught at Hamilton, Ferrum, and Wabash colleges, the Hartt School of the University of Hartford, and Westminster Choir College of Rider University. She has numerous choral arrangements and editions in print and is associate editor of Choral Journal. She offers commentaries on choral topics for the “Performance Today” show on National Public Radio.

In directing the orchestra, Young says, “I make the parts somewhat similar for the less-experienced players, but I don’t water down the hard parts for the more advanced students. I want everybody to play at as high a level as possible.” Lafayette’s director of string ensembles since 1995, she holds Doctor of Musical Arts and Master of Music degrees from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and a bachelor’s degree from Sarah Lawrence College. She is extremely active as a teacher, conductor, and performer. She is a violin instructor at the Manhattan School of Music, Preparatory Division, and a highly-regarded soloist and ensemble performer. In addition to her ensemble coaching duties at Lafayette, she also teaches violin and viola.

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