LENOX -- The second annual Lenox Caroling Festival attracted groups from all over the region and beyond, but the victors Saturday were Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts’ own Allegrettos.
Designed to boost community holiday spirits and bring business to the town during a key pre-Christmas weekend for merchants, the event attracted an estimated 600 listeners or more to the downtown historic district.
Eight choral groups, including three from Berkshire County and others from eastern Massachusetts, Connecticut and Delaware, serenaded onlookers on the porches of four downtown establishments on a day that started out rainy but turned cloudy and relatively mild.
At the awards ceremony held at Shakespeare & Company on Saturday evening, emceed by state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, the Allegrettos, a 30-member vocal group from the North Adams liberal arts college, captured first place, winning the $2,000 grand prize.
Last December, the ensemble took second place. An enthusiastic crowd, including supporters from MCLA, cheered the group wildly after its performance of two holiday favorites and the subsequent announcement of its first-place trophy, a mounted bronze sculpture, "La Chanteuse" ("The Singer") by area artist Andrew DeVries.
The MCLA singers, founded as the Hoosings in 2009 as a 10-person freshman ensemble, are led by Juwonni Cottle, Brittney Gerber and Benjamin Balon. The choir specializes in gospel and
"The quality of singing was extremely high at this festival, making decisions very difficult both for the judges and our audiences," said Andrea Goodman, the festival director, in a prepared statement. "As we did this year with the Allegrettos, we hope to welcome back the other contestants in future years."
Votes were tabulated based on ballots cast by listeners during the day as well as by a panel of professional musicians and critics.
The second-place award of $500 went to the Lexington High School Madrigal Singers, based in suburban Boston. The group performs at least 30 concerts yearly in the area.
Tying for third place was the Cape Chorale, a group of Cape Henlopen High School students from Lewes, Del., and the Ridgefield (Conn.) Chorale Touring Ensemble. Each received a $250 cash prize. The tie was caused by close scores by public audiences who voted throughout the town as well as the panel of judges.
According to Caroling Festival President Richard Wise, the event attracted more than twice as many spectators as last December’s first edition. He said that nearly 2,500 votes were tallied by listeners designating their choices for first, second and third place -- obviously, some voted more than once. A 30-year local gemologist who owns R.W. Wise, Goldsmiths, Inc. on Church Street in Lenox, Wise relayed reports by merchants and restaurant owners telling of increased business.
"Last year was good, and I would say this year we’re approaching great," said Paul Leney, owner of B Mango & Bird, an eclectic home-furnishings and lifestyle shop, who reported business there up by about a third compared to last year.
Among other merchants reporting an upsurge of activity were Marla Monjardo, owner of the Evviva boutique; Matt Tucker, co-owner of the Shots Cafe; and Aurelien Telle, co-owner of the Alta restaurant and wine bar.
The Lenox Select Board approved $3,500 to help jump-start the event, designed as the town’s prime winter-season attraction for tourists and county residents. Wise and his organizing committee reported raising more than $20,000 from area businesses to support the project and he also lined up local sponsors.