Christmas concert.
College of St. Catherine and College of St. Thomas students singing in the Christmas concert held in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas, 1961.

Tales from the Archives: Christmas Choral Music at St. Thomas

Anticipation is building as the university community eagerly awaits the annual Christmas concert at Orchestra Hall Dec. 3. Delighting in this cherished tradition, look back to the rich history of the annual Christmas concerts at St. Thomas.

Some of the first Christmas concerts date to the 1930s when the student choral ensembles of the College of St. Catherine and the College of St. Thomas joined forces. Together, they graced assemblies at their respective schools and gatherings in the wider Twin Cities community with renditions of classic and traditional Christmas music. Their artistry became so well regarded that on Dec. 15, 1935, a performance of the combined group was broadcast into homes over the Upper Midwest’s Northwest radio network and nationally on the NBC radio network. 

1935 Christmas assembly program.
Program for the Christmas Assembly, 1935.

While these joint choral performances continued through the 1970s, another tradition emerged. In 1959, under the skilled direction of Father Richard Schuler, the Madrigal Singers were founded. This unaccompanied ensemble, composed of four women from the College of St. Catherine and four men from the College of St. Thomas, transported audiences to the musical landscapes of 14th-16th century Europe. Their rendition of “Christmas in Tyrol” was a standout, captivating viewers when it was broadcast on KTCA-TV, the Twin Cities public television station, in 1962. 

The first in the series of what is now the annual Christmas concert was performed in the Chapel of St. Thomas Aquinas on Dec. 11, 1988. “Heralding the Holidays” was inspired by the vision of St. Thomas President Monsignor Terrence Murphy for a Christmas concert to showcase the talents of the schools’ musical ensembles. This first concert showcased the collective talents of the Fine Arts Ensemble, the Women’s Choir, the Liturgical Choir, the Concert Choir, the College Orchestra, and the Canticum Novum. Overwhelming community response led to the expansion of performances to two evenings in 1992. 

By 1993, the St. Thomas Christmas concerts exclusively featured St. Thomas students. The demand for tickets skyrocketed, leading to the scheduling of four performances in 1997. In 2007, the concert found a new home at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis to accommodate the enthusiastic crowds. In 2015, “A St. Thomas Christmas: A Jubilant Light 2015,” became the first St. Thomas Christmas concert recorded and distributed by Twin Cities Public Television to public television stations nationwide. This marked a milestone, allowing audiences across the country to experience the artistry of St. Thomas’ Christmas celebration during the holiday season.