Bi-yearly event popular as ever

Vanessa Marcano

Vanessa Marcano

A jolly Christmas spirit filled the quarters of Peterson Recital Hall, transforming it into a regal 16th century English banquet during the 2009 Madrigal Dinner, hosted by the SDSU Music Department from Dec. 3 to 6.

The “Christmasse Madrigal Feaste” -an SDSU musical institution that occurs only every two years- featured more than 90 students performing traditional holiday music in the style of medieval England, complete with jesters and a royal court in charge of entertaining attendees with singing, dance and theater.

After all guests were seated to enjoy their three-course meal, trumpets and an address by royal jesters Emily Conway, a junior psychology major, and Kameron Nelson, a sophomore theater major, kicked off the performance.

The Madrigal Dinner’s choirs were divided into three groups: the Madrigal Singers, junior and senior music majors performing on the main stage; the Westminster Singers, mostly freshman and sophomore music majors featured throughout the dinner, and the Concert Choir, who accompanied vocally and were in charge of serving the guests. Dr. Steven Grives, director of choral activities at SDSU, led the Madrigal and Concert Choir singers, while Dr. Laura Diddle-Hildebrant was in charge of the Westminster Singers.

Pieces performed during the event included medieval Christmas-themed songs, as well as three features from The Nutcracker, highlighted by a female ballerina on the main stage. Senior music major and Madrigal singer Emily Humke said The Nutcracker songs were her favorite to perform but also the most challenging.

“Once we got it down, it was really fun to incorporate the dancing,” she said. “I think it came together nicely.”

Three medieval traditions marked the mood at the dinner: the Wassail toast, an ancient drinking pledge for good health and goodwill, carried out by SDSU President David Chicoine on the dinner’s Sunday matinee performance; the Boar’s Head Carol and presentation of the boar’s head, once considered an exquisite dish that symbolized reverence for this important animal; and the feast of the flaming Christmas dessert.

For this last part, the Concert Choir brought out dozens of small dishes with flaming dessert, which filled the room with the sweet scent of toasted sugar, while the performers accompanied by singing “We wish you a Merry Christmas.” According to tradition, eating plum pudding between Christmas and Epiphany would bring good luck to those who made a wish after the first bite.

Attendees both from the community and the SDSU student body were very pleased with the two-hour dinner performance.

“It was very beautiful. They have it down to an art, and they are very good,” said Naomi Gilkerson, from Brookings.

“The people in the cast really enjoyed what they were doing, and you could feel that emotion in the audience. It was perfect, absolutely perfect,” Chicoine said.

Sadie Smith, a sociology major from DeSmet, S.D., said her favorite part was when the entire ensemble of performers stood all around the recital hall to sing their last song, each holding an electric candle.

“I thought it was amazing. It was like surround sound in medieval form,” she said.

According to Grives, the performers spent most of Thanksgiving week cleaning and transforming the recital hall for the Christmas extravaganza. Jerron Jorgensen, a senior music major and Madrigal singer who also directed a few of the last songs, said the ensemble began practicing the music at the end of October.

“The last week of November we started having nightly practices, two then three, then four hours every night,” Jorgensen said. “But the amount of time we put into it doesn’t come close to what we get out of it.”

Westminster choir member Austin Genzlinger, a sophomore music education major, said his favorite part to perform was the piece “Rorando coeli”, during which both the Madrigal and the Westminster singers sang back and forth, carefully listening to each other’s part in order to come in at the right time.

“I enjoyed all of it,” he said. “I hope to do it again, hopefully at the head table in 2011.”

Proceeds from the event’s ticket and flower sales will go towards the choirs’ tour to Austria and Germany in May 2010, as well as music scholarships, Grives said. He thanked Kathy Larsen for decorating the hall and costuming the singers, Aramark for providing the dinner’s feast and the patrons for their continued support.

The Madrigal choirs will also perform at the Old Courthouse Museum in Sioux Falls on Dec. 9 and at The View in Pierre on Dec. 10.