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College hosts 50th annual Madrigal Dinner

This year, Saint Mary’s celebrated the 50th year of a school holiday tradition, the Madrigal Dinner. Saint Mary’s department of music holds one of the longest-running Madrigal dinners, the oldest by a women’s choir. 

Nancy Menk, director of the Madrigal Dinner described the event as “a recreation of a feast in Renaissance England.” This year’s show followed the story of a lord and lady, whose daughter marries a kitchen servant. The lady was played by Susan Baxter, who also adapted the play. Richard Baxter played the lord of the house and also directed the actors. 

Beyond the acting, there was also a choir of Madrigal singers, made up of Saint Mary’s students. One such singer is Meghan Gould, a senior music education major who has been in the Madrigal choir for four years. 

“Through the music major, we have to be a part of an ensemble. I’m in the women’s choir and the Madrigal singers are selected from the women’s choir.”

Gould said she loves the period music sung throughout the dinner.

“I think my favorite part is the singing. That style of music is really fun to learn but also spending time with the choir outside choir time really builds lifelong relationships,” she said. “To make it seem more authentic, we sing period music from the Renaissance or that at least sounds like it was written in that time.” 

Andrea Lindback is a music education major who is also a singer with the Madrigal choir. She said the traditions behind the Madrigal Dinner make it so much fun to be a part of. 

“It has morphed into something specifically just Saint Mary’s which is really notable and I think just very historic and fun.”

Lindback also talked more about a behind-the-scenes tradition involving the head of the pig that is processed around the dining hall. 

“We usually prank people with the boar’s head. Last year, we hung it up in Dr. Menk’s office and put a dress in it,” she said.

Menk also reflected on the tradition. She has one photo with some old students on top of Haggar Hall with the pig’s head. She has also found it in her bathtub, and attached to her car with plastic wrap. 

The structure of the dinner is laid out by five fanfares with entertainment scattered throughout. The first was an entrance that gave a taste of all the different forms of entertainment as well as introduced the characters of the show. 

It was followed by the Heralding of the Wassail Bowl which signals the beginning of the meal with the appetizer. This year was a winter salad of apples, celery, and nuts. 

Then came the Heralding of the Boar’s Head and feast, where the pig’s head is processed around the room. The main course of roast beef, potatoes, and green beans began. 

After was the Heralding of the Figgy Pudding, which Saint Mary’s replaced with cheesecake due to the general lack of interest in figgy pudding.

 Finally, the Heralding of the Entertainment rounded out the experience with more music, dancing, and the resolution of the show. This year, this section featured a new piece Menk had commissioned for the 50th anniversary called “The Question Carol.”

At the event, two local jugglers performed an interactive show that included teaching members of the audience, juggling overhead and ended with them juggling swords. 

There was intermittent dancing from the Royal Court Dancers who are also Saint Mary’s students. Everyone was dressed in elaborate Renaissance costumes created by Melissa Bialko, another thing Menk says “makes it feel more authentic to the Renaissance.” 

Despite the large amount of work that goes into organizing and rehearsing the Madrigal Dinner, Lindback said “it benefits the students a lot with professional experience and benefits the community. It really is enjoyable.”

She and others hope Saint Mary’s will continue its run as the longest-running college Madrigal Dinner.

The Saint Mary’s Madrigal Dinner always takes place between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Tickets are open for purchase to anyone.

Contact Katelyn Waldschmidt at kwaldschmidt01@saintmarys.edu