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SMC holds Madrigal Dinners

Nicole Zook | Friday, December 5, 2003

For the next three nights, Regina Hall will be transformed into a medieval festival.Saint Mary’s will host its 31st annual Madrigal Dinners today, Saturday and Sunday. The dinner usually lasts about two hours and includes various forms of entertainment, with singers, actors, jugglers, musicians, and a large meal. The performers include students from Saint Mary’s and Notre Dame, along with Notre Dame alumni and students from other area schools. This year’s program will present 22 singers who are students in the South Bend area. Nancy Menk, Saint Mary’s music professor and choir director, said that the choir has been working hard.”We have about 10 rehearsals, twice a week starting after October break. We start learning the notes, the music, and then gradually incorporate movement,” she said. “I think the choir sounds better than ever this year.”The singers will be performing madrigal-style pieces and period carols along with many songs traditional to madrigal dinners, such as “The Boar’s Head Carol,” “The Holly and the Ivy,” “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” and several wassails.Other performers at the dinner include two trumpet players, two jugglers, a Royal Consort of musicians and four actors. Saint Mary’s professor Mark Abram-Copenhaver writes the script every year, which includes lines for a jester, a wench and a herald. He also plays the Master of the House, a medieval master of ceremonies.Sandy Rhein organizes the instrumental music and plays the harpsichord throughout the dinner. The Royal Consort is composed of students from the Andrews University Early Music Ensemble. They travel from Michigan each year to perform at the dinner.Notre Dame graduate Will Bennett travels from Virginia every year to juggle during the dinner. Menk is not surprised by the level of dedication. Many in the community make the dinners a yearly tradition as well, she said. “Will Bennett is amazing – he comes all the way from Virginia, every year, just to do this,” Menk said. “Some businesses even use it for their holiday office parties for their employees. It’s just a long-standing tradition in the town,” Menk said.Although the music is generally the main purpose of a madrigal dinner, the dinners also focus on the food itself. Food services employees set up the hall all day on Thursday and spend many hours preparing and serving the food.”The meal is served family-style, with prime rib, potatoes, carrots, Waldorf salad, and cherries jubilee cheesecake,” Menk said. “We used to serve figgy pudding because it’s a traditional madrigal dessert, but everyone hated it. Everyone loves the food.”The food service workers, scene shop crew, music department office and madrigal singers prepare for the dinners the entire week, although most say they enjoy the preparations.”Our 10 rehearsals last an hour and a half, and during the actual week of the dinner we put in a lot of hours working on songs, lighting and placing – we don’t dance, but we do move around a lot,” junior Kathleen Douglass said. “Madrigal Dinners [are] a lot of hard work, but at the end of every performance night, I become more and more in the Christmas spirit.”