Celebrate the origins of Yuletide traditions when the Lake Michigan College Mendel Center welcomes the Baltimore Consort at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 1, in Grand Upton Hall.
With its festive cornucopia of instruments – lute, cittern, viols, crumhorns, recorders, rebec, and percussion – the Baltimore Consort offers old carols and dance tunes from the British Isles, Germany, France, Spain, and the New World during their presentation of Wassail, Wassail! Music for the Yuletide Season.
Founded in 1980 to perform the instrumental music of Shakespeare’s time, the Baltimore Consort has explored early English, Scottish, and French popular music, focusing on the relationship between folk and art, song and dance. An interest in early music of English/Scottish heritage has also led these world-class musicians to delve into the rich trove of traditional music preserved in North America.
Recordings on the Dorian label have earned the Baltimore Consort recognition as Top Classical-Crossover Artist of the Year (Billboard), as well as rave reviews elsewhere. Besides touring in the U.S. and abroad, the group has often performed on such syndicated radio broadcasts as “St. Paul Sunday,” “Performance Today,” “Harmonia,” and the CBC’s “OnStage.”
The origins of wassail
Wassail comes to us through the centuries with more than one meaning. Among them are: a toast to good health, a holiday beverage, and a predecessor to modern-day caroling. Its origins are felt to be traced to the Anglo-Saxon words “waes hael,” often used as a toast meaning “to your health.”
As traditions and practices surrounding the darkest days of winter evolved, a hard cider-based beverage used for toasting on Twelfth Night (most closely approximating our New Year’s Eve) grew to be known as wassail. In wealthier households of the time, wassail wasn’t only saved for one day. It was routinely enjoyed each day of the 12-day Yule festival – from the winter solstice through the early days of January.
At the same time, peasants would revel in the streets, going from one wealthy home to the next, asking for food and libations in exchange for a song. This became known as wassailing.
Eventually, the Twelfth Night tradition evolved into the feast of Epiphany, traditionally celebrating the arrival of the Magi to see the newborn baby Jesus. The practice of wassailing was spruced up in the 19th century by authors like Charles Dickens, being recast as the wholesome practice known today as caroling.
As part of the Mendel Center’s holiday season celebration, a special mix of Mendel Center Wassail, made with Lake Michigan Vintners cider, will be served as part of the cash bar.
Tickets for the Baltimore Consort present Wassail, Wassail! Music for the Yuletide Season are $40 for theatre-style seating and $60 for table seating. They may be purchased at www.TheMendelCenter.com/events and through the Mendel Center box office at 269-927-8700 option 1 or in person weekdays from noon – 2 p.m. and 4 – 6 p.m. The box office is also open two hours before the show. On the day of the Baltimore Consort performance, the box office will be open in the Grand Upton Hall lobby.
This activity is supported in part by the Michigan Arts and Culture Council.