by Esther Bell/Staff Writer
Photo Caption: From left to right, Tyler Swango, 12, Zeke Holden, 12, Matthew Royster, 12, Ethan Bittinger, 12, Hunter Stine, 12, Bryce Kinnaman, 12, Ethan Hollis, 12, Michael Runions, 12 and others rehearse “Landlord Fill the Flowing Bowl” in the choir room. Photo taken by Ariana Bell.
The Madrigal dinner is a yearly tradition the Madrigal choir does, which consists of a funny medieval skit with songs to go with it, the dinner itself, and a five-song concert at the end. There is a lot that goes into it, and it is something that means a lot to many people. “It is a big tradition,” says Paul Grizzard, the GC choir director, “and so a lot of people have been coming to these for years and years. They were in it when they were in high school, and now their kids are in it, and so it is a huge deal and it’s just so cool to see that carry on from generation to generation.”
For some of the choir members, it is a joy to simply see the audience’s reactions to their performance. Jaclyn Layton, this year’s Queen of the dinner and senior, says that her favorite part of it is “being part of the skit and performing for a different group of people each night, and just seeing everybody’s faces light up whenever we’re singing or laughing at ourselves.”
There is a lot that goes into the dinner, though. The preparations start immediately after the fall concert. “Even though we had tons of time,” says Grizzard, “I auditioned this dinner in September so that we knew who’s doing what part.” On top of that, the costumes have to be ready early. “I’ve had plenty of these,” Grizzard explains, “where you have somebody who’s trying on their dress the first time, the opening night, and then everybody’s freaking out. So, I’ve learned you gotta give people time.”
Many people help with the preparation and making of the Madrigal dinner. “I do have a nice army of parents who help out,” says Grizzard. “This year we have Mrs. Jen Steele, who is our music department secretary. This is her first year of doing it, so she’s already asking me, sending me all these emails about questions, because she has never done one before (and she wants to make sure it goes smoothly).” Grizzard continues on about the parents who help with the dinner. “It’s usually just Madrigal parents,” he says, “but we do need a lot of support, that often we have parents of freshmen and sophomores who might not have kids in the Madrigal choir who still help out.” Grizzard finishes by saying that without these parents, they could not pull it off.
The main part of it, though, is the choir’s songs and skit. There is even a drinking song in the show that the gentlemen sing. “It’s called ‘Landlord Fill the Flowing Bowl’,” says Grizzard, “and it’s all about filling the flowing bowl.”
That isn’t the only type of song being performed, though. “We also have a lot of songs,” says Ethan Bittinger, this year’s King of the dinner, “that are really pretty and melodic songs, which I do enjoy listening to a good, melodic slow piece.”
“Adoramus Te” is one of these, a song sung every year, and what Grizzard says is his all-time favorite song. “Like the blessing before the meal,” he explains. Along with that, Madrigal sings “Silent Night,” surrounding the audience. “We get candles,” says Grizzard, “and then we kill the lights to the place so that you just see candlelight, and it’s such a cool effect.”
The main attraction of the dinner is, of course, the skit performed for the “peasants,” or the audience. “The Madrigal dinners is a concert as well as a play,” says Grizzard, “and so there’s a theater part in there.” He goes on to talk about the funny skit with jester as the main character. Along with that, two seniors in Madrigal take the roles of King and Queen. “This year,” says Layton, “I am the Queen, so that is a big difference than last year’s Fredrica Ferducci (the character she played last year), and even though it’s not as big of a speaking part I’m very excited to sit back and watch the skit play out, and just see how things go, being in that leader role.”
Bittinger adds on to this. “I think [the skit] is where we have the most fun with being ourselves,” he says, “because you can really do whatever you want, and you get to portray someone who you’re not used to doing, and it’s a good outlet for being safe, and understanding: ‘Hey, I can go be whoever I want here, fit in with this dinner.’ It’s also a really good way to connect with the community, because you see a lot of people from other counties that hear about these dinners, and they’ll come, and they’ll watch, and I think it’s overall just a really good bonding time, especially with the fellow people in the choirs, just to get closer together,” he finishes.
There’s one part that Bittinger really enjoys. “I really like how during our intermission times we have a time where all of the cast and singers are allowed to walk around the dinners, and interact with the peasants, the people who showed up to watch the performance,” Bittinger says. He goes on to talk about a fun tradition that happens when someone pulls out modern technology during the dinner. “And it’s always good, because there’s always someone in the audience [we call a “witch,”] with their phone out, and it’s really good just to interact with them and that’s probably the most fun part about it.”
There are some difficulties that go along with doing the dinner, too. Some of that, as Layton and Bittinger say, is keeping expression and trusting those around them to do their jobs, but another one is singing in a different environment than usual. “For [the Madrigal Dinner],” says Grizzard, “if you’re a soprano, you’d have a tenor in one ear, you’d have a bass in another ear, and I’m nowhere to be seen.” He explains that the whole performance is done without him.
Even with these difficulties, Grizzard says he feels great about the dinner. “I get everybody,” he says, “I give them a little pep talk, and then I give the cue for the first song, and then off they go.” He builds on this later. “Teaching is a stressful job,” Grizzard explains, “and it is a lot of work for me, but then to just be able to sit back and to see kids tear up for the last concert and to see how much it means to them just makes it worthwhile.”