A Madrigal Knight!!

At the end of 8th grade, Manasi told us she was auditioning for the Madrigals – and that is the first time ever that we had even heard of Madrigals. I gathered that this was an audition choir, and was mainly for juniors and seniors. Really, we weren’t expecting much out of the audition, except the experience. So when she made the callback cut, there was a lot of excitement – and after we picked up the music for the callbacks, a lot of anxiety. The callback wasn’t just singing, but a lot of technical stuff – sight reading, different scales, triads, greek verbs, latin idioms, magic spells and a whole lot of other words – bottom line, she didn’t know any of this stuff. Oh well, nothing ventured, nothing gained – so she still went into the audition – and surprise, surprise, surprise – guess who’s the only freshman in the Madrigal choir this year??!!!

I still didn’t realize what a big deal this was. The first hint was a hefty packet from the choir director, Ms. R – this included practice schedules, performance schedules, and a ton of other information. The second was the parent meeting before school started. Of course, all the other parents had done this thing previous years – what I got out off the meeting was that Manasi had made history (!) as the first freshman Madrigal soprano in years, and that I as a Madrigal parent was expected to volunteer to setup the castle (Castle? What castle?) and sign up for kitchen duty on one of the performance nights. Wait, what? My involvement in this thing is more than driving back and forth from rehearsal?? I do like to volunteer in the school – so, I put my name down for a a couple of things. Still clueless, mind you.

Mondays, 6pm to 8pm – Madrigal practice started the week before school. Works out really well for the first few weeks. Ajey and I would drop Manasi off, then head to the Rock Island trail while she was at rehearsal. As the weather got colder, the Dunlap library replaced the trail – but soon, Mondays were joined by Thursday rehearsal – and I started dropping her off, and then making a second trip to go get her. And it wasn’t just rehearsals – there were several team-building activities – a volleyball game with potluck, soprano sleepovers, a retreat at the school, performances in Springfield and Morton and a Secret Santa gift exchange! I was a little worried about Manasi hanging out with the older kids – but she was having a blast. The music was challenging and fun to learn – and everyone was so very inclusive and considerate of her!! The last 2 weeks before the show, Manasi was at the school from 6pm to 9pm every day – but not once did she complain about the commitment!

The tickets soon arrived – as Madrigal parents, we had 6 tickets for each night. Again, a little taken aback by the demand for tickets – I actually had people call me for tickets – the entire show was sold out in a couple of days!! And before we knew it, it was the night before the performance, and it was dress rehearsal time!! Oh yes, this thing was a full-blown medieval costume drama – most of the older girls bought or made their own beautiful dresses, and there are a couple of costume rental places in Peoria. In addition, Ms. R also has a closet of clothes – donated by alumni Madrigals, and this is where we first looked. Manasi came home with 3 dresses to try, and we were lucky enough to find one that fit her perfectly.

I guess that this is as good time as any to explain a little more about the Madrigal choir. Simply put, Madrigal singing was an after dinner entertainment for the royal courts of medieval England, especially during Christmas. The great lords and ladies of the lands often performed this music themselves. The madrigal songs are written for small groups of singers, and are sung without any musical accompaniment – several voice parts combining in an uniquely melodic sound. The Madrigal has become integral to music programs in high schools and colleges across America – at Dunlap High School, this is the ‘Madrigal Knight’ – transporting the audience to the music and traditions of a 18th century English Christmas. So there it is – all my research in a nutshell – but I still don’t know what to expect on performance night!!

So where do we find a medieval castle in the middle of Peoria? Well, we just make one! The transformation of the DHS cafeteria into a castle keep began Friday afternoon. The construction crew started by putting up the ‘walls’. I was part of the ‘Commons’ committee, and we were wrapping the pillars between the walls with the ‘stone’ paper. On one end of the hall, was a massive fireplace, at the other end, a ‘High Table’ for the Madrigal court. Various shields and tapestries were hung on the walls, along with lanterns and candelabras to light the Hall. The table committee was busy setting up the tables for the audience, and back in the kitchen, the first shift of parent volunteers was slicing their way through a mountain of baguettes, cheese and citrus fruits!! The entryway was lined with Christmas trees and fake snow. Of course, all this was considerably more complex than it sounds – but slowly, surely, everything came together.

By 6pm, the final touches were being put on – and after helping Manasi dress, I moved to the kitchen for my second shift – slicing and plating the dozens of pies, and then later washing the first lot of dishes returning to the kitchen. I actually thought I would head home between the 2 shifts, but just didn’t have enough time. So in a very sweet gesture, Ajey drove to the school to bring me a quick dinner!! It was a lot of fun working with the other Madrigal parents – although I was getting a little overwhelmed with all the positive comments about the ‘Freshman Madrigal’!! The singers had a post-show discussion with Ms. R, and it was well after 11pm that we headed home. A long, exhausting day – especially for the students who worked through the afternoon unpacking and moving boxes, and then performed for 3 hours!

Saturday night – I went backstage for a bit to help Manasi with her hair and make-up – and then we were seated at our table. The program listed the names of the songs and performers, as well as the dinner menu – and as a party favor, each guest had a tiny scroll with the wassail recipe. Wassail? So that’s a traditional toast raised to the king – this version was kind of like a cinnamony punch, served warm at the table. After everyone was seated, the Court Singers took their places, and the Madrigal court, led by the King and Queen, walked in to the fanfare of trumpets. The show itself was mainly singing, with the Madrigals and Court Singers walking around the Hall in different formations – interspersed with little skits and comic relief. The highlight was the Court Dance – in which each Madrigal picked a guest to dance with – Manasi, of course, danced with Ajey! The performers all spoke in British accents, as they walked around talking to the guests between songs! Dinner was a cheese and grape platter, followed by potato soup (‘Stew of cream and root’) and traditional bread pudding and pies for dessert.

It was a really lovely evening!! And how talented are these kids – all that hard work over the last couple of months, coming together so beautifully!! After the performance, all the seniors were really emotional – most of them have been on Madrigals for at least 3 years, and this was their last high school performance. Everyone was taking so many pictures, and it was a good hour later that people started to leave.

What a wonderful experience this has been for Manasi!! Her singing has no doubt improved by leaps and bounds – and the friendships she has made are invaluable!! A huge thank you to Ms. R for taking a chance on my freshman, and to all the older kids for taking her under their wing, and treating her so wonderfully! Looking forward to the next 3 years!!

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