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Back and Better than Ever: The Return of the Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts

The Philharmonic Chorus of Madison performs holiday carols at the Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts in 2017. Photo by Andy Manis.

If you’re searching for the perfect way to ring in the holidays this year, look no further than the Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts. This tradition will return to Memorial Union’s Great Hall from Nov. 30-Dec. 4 for the first time since 2019! With extravagant feasts, old English pageantry and cheerful carols, these five nights of festive fun will get you into the holiday spirit. Tickets to this beloved event are on sale now on the event website

We’re told that this series dates back to 1933, when a group of community singers agreed to sing a holiday program at the Wisconsin Union and the University Club. In 1972, members of the Philharmonic Chorus of Madison, Madison’s premier a cappella group, began performing at the dinner concerts. The event officially became known as the Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts the following year and has been a hallmark of the holidays at the Wisconsin Union ever since. 

This year’s Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts will blend time-honored traditions with exciting additions, including new Chorus leadership and membership! Read on to learn more about why this year’s Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts will be better than ever. 

The Return of Timeless Traditions

Fine dining and festive fun are always hallmarks of the Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts. Photo by Andy Manis.

The Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts did not occur in 2020 or 2021 due to COVID-19, which makes this year’s return of the familiar event even sweeter. We, at the Wisconsin Union, can’t wait to join you all in-person once again to celebrate this long-standing tradition of warmth, fellowship and history. 

It’s no secret that the legendary dinner concert series would not be the same without a few key components. No need to fear—all of these fan-favorite elements (and more!) will be back this year:

  • Delectable wassail and hors d’oeuvres prior to entering the Great Hall
  • The grand processional and Yuletide toast welcoming guests
  • Presentation of the boar’s head 
  • A delicious dinner crafted by the Wisconsin Union catering team
  • Lively performances by the Philharmonic Chorus of Madison
  • Famous flaming figgy pudding with hard sauce

Many Chorus members of seasons past will return to the Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts, including Lee Swimm, who has been part of the Chorus since 1990. Even after three decades of performing in the holiday concerts with the Chorus, it remains something he always looks forward to—this year more than ever. 

“I’ve never gotten tired of performing at the Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts,” Lee said. “No matter how many years I do it, each night is different, so it never gets old.”

After getting dressed and warming up, about a third of the Chorus members break into small groups to entertain guests as they mingle and enjoy hors d’oeuvres and wassail, a hot mulled cider delight. Lee’s been a part of multiple groups in the past, including the men’s quartet.

“My favorite Tudor Dinner memory actually happened before the event one year,” Lee said. “On my way to Memorial Union, I overheard someone whisper to their friend, ‘I hope they have the men’s quartet!’ I was part of the men’s quartet that year, and hearing that our small group was a highlight of someone’s Tudor Dinner experience was an amazing feeling.”

The Chorus always begins their dinner concert with a greeting carol, the boar’s head carol (paying homage to an English legend of an Oxford University student who saved a scholar from a boar attack), and a processional carol before the proclamation of the meal. There’s a brief intermission from the music while everyone eats, and then the Chorus members return to the stage to continue the program.

Experience flaming figgy pudding, a Tudor Dinner delicacy, when you attend one of the Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts! (We’re not kidding about the flaming part.) Photo by Andy Manis.

“In addition to the traditional carols, we usually sing a humorous song,” Lee said. “This year it’ll be ‘The Christmas Can Can.’ Once the figgy pudding is served, we sing ‘We Wish You a Merry Christmas’ and encourage the audience to sing along!”

The Chorus members close out the evening with a 30-minute concert and a final seasonal greeting, and then they return the next night to do it all again. No matter if it’s your first or 50th time attending the Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts, you’ll always leave with a smile on your face.

A Warm Welcome to New Faces in the Philharmonic Chorus

We, at the Wisconsin Union, can’t wait to welcome new Choir Director Clare Malinowski to the Great Hall for the first time. Clare will bring her fresh perspective, musical talent and impressive leadership skills to the Philharmonic Chorus of Madison and the Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts. She hopes that guests will leave the evening’s festivities feeling “joyful and light.”

Along with Clare, there are more new faces making up the largest Chorus in recent history. One new member this year is Julia Goetzka, who is returning to her musical roots.

“I received classical training in my youth, but in my adulthood I shifted towards jazz,” Julia said. “Now that my kids are older, I have some extra time to seek out a creative endeavor. I had been missing utilizing my voice and being part of a community of other singers, so I’m thrilled to be a part of the Chorus!”

Weekly rehearsals only started in September, but Julia already loves joining together to create music. 

Attendees will hear small-group singing by the Philharmonic Chorus of Madison in addition to the full-chorus performances. Photo by Andy Manis.

“It’s been wonderful to find a whole new world of people who all love to sing,” Julia said. “Listening to all the singers around me and being able to raise my voice with them is an experience like no other.”

Julia, along with the rest of the Chorus members, can’t wait to perform at the Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts this year.

“I’m excited to be part of the decades-old tradition of dressing up and performing in the beautiful Great Hall,” Julia said. “I’m looking forward to performing for a live audience again, sharing the moment and seeing their reactions. As an added bonus, my daughter just started at UW-Madison this fall, so this is a wonderful event to connect us both to the University.”

To echo Lee and Julia’s excitement, we, at the Wisconsin Union, also eagerly anticipate the return of this beloved event to Memorial Union’s Great Hall. Whether you’ve attended the event before or are looking for a new way to celebrate the holidays, the Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts are the perfect place to experience the joy and connection that represent the holiday spirit. 

Tickets to these events tend to sell out quickly, so purchase yours today before they’re gone! You don’t want to miss this chance to experience this timeless Wisconsin Union tradition reimagined from Nov. 30-Dec. 4.
Have questions about the Tudor Holiday Dinner Concerts? Email tudors@union.wisc.edu or call (608) 890-1077.

Author: Abby Synnes

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