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Hampshire High gets medieval for madrigal dinner

Madrigal singers entertacrowd. | Denise Moran ~ For Sun-Times Medi

Madrigal singers entertain the crowd. | Denise Moran ~ For Sun-Times Media

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Updated: January 17, 2014 6:22AM

HAMPSHIRE — In celebration of the holiday season, Hampshire High School transported itself back to medieval times this past weekend in order to host its ninth-annual madrigal dinner.

The event was held twice on Saturday, as well as on Sunday afternoon and evening. The performances all sold out early, according to Chris Cherry, Hampshire High choral director and madrigal director.

“Madrigal singing, brought to England from Italy in the 16th century, was at first a very informal type of private entertainment at the castles and country homes of the local gentry,” Cherry said. “Frequently, the lords and ladies performed the music by themselves as they sat at dinner in the great hall. During the 12 days of the Christmas season, there was much entertaining and singing of madrigals.”

“Madrigals are songs written for small groups in which several voice parts are skillfully combined so that each part is interesting and independent,” Cherry added. “These madrigals are sung without musical accompaniment. They are frequently based on a secular text or fable of the time.”

The madrigal singers were led by “Lord and Lady” Benn Joyce and Ally Miley. The madrigal also featured the servant chorus, heralding trumpets and “Stewards” Lizzy Baeder and Cassandra Thompson. There also were performances by members of the Hampshire High band and orchestra. High school students Jacob Gholson, Caitlyn Graff and Scott Scanlan were the heralding trumpets.

“This year has seen the largest number of students participating in the madrigal,” said Hampshire High band director Helen Lawrence. “It’s a great way for the whole music department to celebrate a Hampshire High tradition started by Chris Cherry.”

Hampshire resident Marilyn Becker videotaped the madrigal weekend, and people can purchase a copy of the performance for $13 each.

Becker has been involved with the Hampshire High madrigal since its first performance. Her five children, who have since graduated from the high school, all participated in the event when they attended the school. Becker sewed many of the costumes still worn today by the madrigal performers.

“It’s been the same yet different every year,” Becker said. “They first started with recorders. They now have select members of the band and orchestra. The first madrigals served turkey legs and later moved to chicken legs and pork chops.”

The earlier madrigals, in true medieval style, served dinners where participants ate with their hands.

This year marked the first time silverware was used at the madrigal. The menu included wassail, bread, beef and barley soup, pork loin, rosemary chicken, new potatoes, green beans, wild rice, bread pudding, and beverages of iced tea, water and coffee.

Songs were sung when the wassail bowl was brought forth. Carols were also performed when two servants carried the traditional boar’s head.

“The madrigal has become a nice tradition at the school,” Cherry said. “The kids look forward to it. They consider it an honor to be a part of it. Hampshire High alumni come back here every year and sing with the performers.”

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