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Saint Mary’s prepares for 44th annual Christmas dinner celebration

| Friday, December 2, 2016

The Saint Mary’s Department of Music will present their 44th annual Madrigal Christmas Dinner Celebration in the North Lounge of Regina Hall this Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

According to Nancy Menk, the chair of the music department and the person responsible for putting the program together, the dinner — like other madrigal dinners — is a re-creation of a 16th century holiday feast. 

“The idea is that it takes place in a manor and the lord of the manor hosts guests from the community,” she said. “The dinner includes entertainment, instruments, dancers and there is sort of a little play going on during the dinner.”

The choir group who performs at the dinner, or the “Madrigals,” have been rehearsing for the dinner since October, sophomore Riley Harber said.

“I do women’s choir four hours a week and this is an additional two, which is challenging, but definitely worth it,” Harber, a member of the Madrigals, said. “It’s fun to be immersed in the middle ages atmosphere.”

This year’s dinner will mark Menk’s 33rd year of involvement with the dinner at Saint Mary’s. Over the years, she said she has seen the performance change for the better.

The Madrigals used to be a mixed group, including men and women from both Notre Dame and Saint Mary’s. This tradition changed 10 years ago to make the group an all-women’s choir.

“We changed it to all women so more Saint Mary’s girls could be involved,” she said.

The night also used to include an opera during the dinner.

“Apparently, before I came they would do a little opera during the dinner — back then it was an extended evening,” she said. “Over the years we’ve added dancers, changed the scenery and have improved it.”

Laurie Lowry, a senior lecturer for dance at Saint Mary’s, has been the choreographer of the dinner for the past five years. She said dance brings another element to the dinner.

“I think it’s really fun to look at another element in the arts,” she said. “The audience can sit back and enjoy the music and the patterns.

“Early dance like that wasn’t really elaborate, but it’s tricky. It puts a different take on what the audience feels and sees.”

Menk said madrigal dinners used to be more prominent among schools, which is why its preservation at Saint Mary’s is imperative.

“Maybe 20 to 30 years ago, there were more madrigal dinners taking place, but some of them have died away,” she said. “It gives the students a chance to sing repertoire from a different era, which we don’t usually do.”

Lowry agreed the Saint Mary’s tradition should be preserved not only for the fun, but for the historical experience.

“I think the ones that are in it get a sense of the history of music, the history of dance and so they have a true experience that is happening,” she said. “They’re not just studying it in a history book — they experience it.”

Lowry said she uses this method of experience in her classes as well.

“I make my students go to the dance floor to experience the genre we are working,” she said. “Unless you experience it, you don’t really understand that.”

Lowry said the experience is not only for the actors, but for the audience members as well.

“I think that our society right now is so far away from history that regenerating the reality of the tradition of that period gives a sense of what it was like to live back then,” Lowry said. “And it’s just a fun Christmas tradition — it’s different rather than going to a movie or the mall.”

The menu includes traditional Renaissance foods such as Cornish game hen, roast beef au jus, roasted vegetables and “wassail,” a traditional hot apple cider.

Harber said the dinner helps her get into the holiday spirit, and she hopes it does the same for others.

“When I was a kid my dad would always take me to Renaissance fairs, and in high school I always thought it was cool but I never got to participate, so when I got the opportunity I thought I would take advantage of it,” she said. “The Christmas spirit is alive even though it’s not really close to Christmas. I hope people go and have a good time, eat some food, get some laughs and I hope they get the same magical Christmas energy out of it that I do.”

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