Swept into medieval times

Tammie Tamara

Tammie TamaraSection Editor

Consistently selling out tickets and drawing an audience from across the country, this year’s Madrigal Dinner will be the last organized by Choral Director Charles Canaan.

He plans to retire before the next dinner which would be two years from now.

“This is my last Madrigal Dinner, and it could be the last madrigal dinner for SDSU because it’s not part of anybody’s job description,” he said.

This big-scale event, starting this Thursday, is put on by the Concert Choir every other year. It has grown considerably since the time Canaan started it in 1987.

“The first time we gave it, we just had two nights,” he said.

Now, the dinner runs Thursday through Sunday and also puts on a dress-rehearsal for area high schools and an abbreviated version in Sioux Falls for alumni, brining the total number of viewers to about 1,200 people.

Tickets for this year were sold out by mid-October. What makes this event so popular?

“It’s a total evening of eating and all the various things that are involved with it,” Canaan said. “The ambiance, the setting of it all, it’s very unique from anything else you’re going to see.”

Lincoln Music Hall is transformed into a great medieval hall with candles and sparkling lights. The attendees are served a fine-class meal surrounded by Madrigal singers and even a jester.

The Concert Choir is responsible for the entertainment aspect, as well as behind-the-scenes work.

“The Madrigal singers are selected from the Concert Choir,” Canaan said. “Concert Choir serves the whole meal and does set-up and clean-up. The highlight of the evening is a dessert choir, and that’s the whole Concert Choir.”

The choir is made up of 68 students. Of those, 18 are Madrigal singers and eight are Westminster singers which serenade tables.”

The audience is treated to spiced apple cider, fillet mignon, vegetables and, to top it off, flaming pudding. The food is catered by Aramark.

“It’s the finest meal that they put together,” Canaan said.

The music is all typical of Shakespearian times. “Madrigal music was something that was real popular at the time of Queen Elizabeth I,” he said.

The songs are generally Christmas-themed. “It’s kind of a good introduction to the season of Christmas,” he said.

The pieces vary from year to year. “There are certain songs that are always used, but the music that the Madrigals sing is different from year to year,” he said.

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For example, the choir will always sing “A Christmas Madrigal” as the last song of the evening.

“The choir surrounds the audience and it’s a very quiet, very, very beautiful number,” he said.

He is happy with his group of singers. “We have very talented singers – they’ve got a lot of responsibility,” he said.

He is pleased at the popularity of the dinner. “We have a lot of people coming from great distances to see this, so that will make it really special,” he said.

“We have people coming from the east coast and the west coast.”

The response is always positive. “It’s interesting talking to people as they’re coming out. They’re very appreciative,” he said.

“Just the overwhelming response of people wanting tickets obviously says they like it and makes it kind of exciting for us.”

Junior Angela Sanborn is looking forward to singing in her first Madrigal Dinner.

“When I was a freshman, I had first heard of doing things with the choir. I saw pictures of it and thought it looked really cool to be a part of it,” she said.

This is her first year in Concert Choir, though she has been in Women’s Choir for two years and taken voice lessons for three years.

“It’s kind of an overwhelming thing, but it will be fun,” she said.

Practicing for the dinner has taken dedication. “It’s been a lot of extra time outside of class to learn the music,” she said.

Money earned from the Madrigal Dinner is used toward travel or scholarships for the choir.