Madrigals usher in the joy of the season

By on December 18, 2009

by Susan O’Neill
KANELAND—The Kaneland High School cafeteria was transformed into a medieval castle last weekend, when family, friends and fans attended the school’s 32nd annual “Madrigal Christmas Feaste.”

Entering the doors of the high school, members of the audience stepped back in time and place for a few hours of entertainment, feasting and merry-making. While they enjoyed a meal fit for a king or queen, prepared by local caterer Food for Thought, they settled in for an afternoon or evening of the joy of the season.

Audience members could easily imagine they were guests of English nobility sometime in the 16th century, when madrigal singing was a private form of entertainment within castles and country homes. More than 90 students played various roles in the performance, which included a brass and a recorder ensemble, servers, pages, court jesters, troubadours, minstrels, beggar women, as well as the madrigal singers.

Preparation for the performance began in the spring, when auditions were held. Rehearsal began in earnest in the fall, as members of the madrigal class began to learn their roles. In addition to the semester-long class, students attended a team-building weekend retreat in Oregon, Ill., in November, where they played games, learned more about each other as people and bonded as a group, madrigal singer Chloe Bluml said.

Chloe’s mom and Samantha Vasquez’s mom sat at a front table together on Saturday afternoon, taking in the show, and passing notes to their daughters on-stage. As part of the entertainment, parents wrote notes of encouragement and humor to their children and receive responses back. Students sent missives to each other, and notes also flew between members of the audience.

“The pages are kept pretty busy,” said Brent Eichelberger, Madrigal singer Eric’s father.

Brent is a somewhat seasoned spectator at the madrigal dinner, having come to see his children perform for the past five years. His involvement is likely to continue, as his youngest daughter, Caroline, a freshman, began her participation this year as a server.

Many parents and others volunteered their time to make the show a success, from helping out in the kitchen to sewing the costumes. Much care was taken with the details of the Elizabethan costumes, as well as with the complex and intricate musical pieces.

Armed with only a pitch pipe, the madrigal group sang most of its songs a capella. Although musical director Brian Kuntzman observed them from the back of the cafeteria, the students were so attuned to each other and the music by the time of the performance, their voices blended together beautifully and came in right on cue.

The event was an emotional experience for many of the students, Brent said. For the seniors, this was their last musical performance in their high school careers. For him and his family, the event was a highlight of the Christmas season, and was an inspirational way to get into the spirit of the season, he said.

Photos by Ben Draper
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