December 5, 2003
Purdue alumni remember PMO Christmas Shows of decades past
WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. Seventy years after the curtain opened before an audience of 200 at the first Purdue Christmas Show in Fowler Hall, as many as 6,000 will be seated in the Elliott Hall of Music to witness the annual spectacle's opening performance of the season on Dec. 12.
Some of the members of this year's audience are longtime faithful followers of the annual production by Purdue Musical Organizations. Among them will be Purdue alumni Dick and Mary McDowell, of West Lafayette, Ind., who have attended the show for more than 60 years.
"It's always so much fun to go and see what they've come up with this year," said Mary McDowell, a 1942 graduate who went to her first PMO Christmas Show in 1939. "It's always something to look forward to."
Dick McDowell, 79, a 1949 Purdue graduate and retired professor of engineering, vividly remembers the ending of the first Christmas show he attended, although he can't remember the exact year.
"It was sometime in the 1940s," he said. "It was all music, no decorations. It was nothing like they have now. The thing that impressed me the most was at the end, when Al Stewart (the show's director) said they were going to conclude with 'Silent Night.' He said, 'After we sing 'Silent Night,' we'll close the curtain with no applause. I want everyone to continue humming 'Silent Night' as you leave, so you'll leave with Christmas in your heart.' Everyone did that, and it was really something."
Like many Purdue alumni who continue to live close to their alma mater, the McDowells made the show part of their annual family Christmas tradition.
Since 1981, the couple has attended the show with a close circle of friends and fellow alumni who would get together for dinner before the show, then go as a group to view the performance. Many years, the McDowells have even gone to the show twice, once as hosts and once as guests.
"That made for an interesting experience," Dick McDowell said. "The second time we went, we knew what to look for and saw things a little differently each time."
This year they are going only once, although they did stop in on a rehearsal to get a sneak preview and visit with some of the cast.
"We thought Al Stewart was good, and his programs were very enjoyable," Mary McDowell said. "I think Brian Breed has done such a wonderful job since he took over."
Breed, director of Purdue Musical Organizations for 17 years, tries to make the Christmas show different every year while maintaining certain traditions, such as the cantata.
"The Christmas show has actually become somewhat radical because it has stayed the same," Breed says. "While so much changes around us, and there is a social pressure to change with the times, the PMO Christmas Show has remained a constant, a tradition people can rely on."
The McDowells are among a small number of audience members who have the perspective of as much as six decades of viewing the show. They recognize and appreciate the enduring qualities of the show and the elements that keep it interesting year after year.
"Brian has really developed the program," Dick McDowell said. "We're always wondering what he'll do next. What I look forward to is the opening. Each one is so different. One year he came out in a white tux. He is a good director. He brings out the best in people."
The McDowells find one of the shows directed by Breed particularly unforgettable.
"We were sitting close to the front, and Brian Breed fell into the hole where Santa went down into the stage," Dick McDowell said. "All at once, he came back up and he was waving and saying 'I'm okay, I'm okay,' and the show went on."
Among Mary McDowell's favorite elements of the show are the children. The PMO Kids Choir is one of four musical organizations in the PMO Christmas Show. Also included are the Purdue Varsity Glee Club, Purduettes and Purdue Bells. This year's theme is 'Tis the Season for All the World. The musical score includes both old and new selections designed to appeal to all ages.
The 2003 PMO Christmas Show will take the stage six times in three days in the Elliott Hall of Music: Friday, Dec. 12, at 8 p.m.; Saturday, Dec. 13, at noon, 4 p.m. and 8 p.m.; and Sunday, Dec. 14, at noon and 4 p.m.
Tickets are $24 for adults and $17 for students and can be purchased at the Purdue box offices by calling (765) 494-3933 or by calling the PMO office toll-free at (800) 893-3041.
More than 1 million people have seen the PMO Christmas Show since its debut in 1933. Each year, the previous year's show is broadcast nationwide on public television and radio stations.
Locally, the 2002 PMO Christmas Show (one-hour edited version) will air on Insight Communications Channel 13 on Dec. 24 at 8 p.m. and Dec. 25 and Dec. 26 at 12:30 p.m. and 8 p.m.
Writer: Reni Winter, (765) 496-3133, email@example.com
Sources: Brian Breed, (765) 494-3941, firstname.lastname@example.org
Julie Ricciardi, (765) 494-3947, email@example.com
Dick McDowell, (765) 463-5407, firstname.lastname@example.org
Purdue News Service: (765) 494-2096; email@example.com
Note to Journalists: Media night will be on Monday (12/8) from 5-7 p.m. at Elliott Hall of Music. Press kits and photo opportunities will be available.