Over 200 of Clarke County’s lords and ladies gathered on Saturday night for a 15thcentury feasting and caroling experience hosted by the Clarke County Public Schools Chamber Choir. The event is a fundraiser to help pay for an upcoming trip to New York City where the choir will represent Virginia in national competition.
“For the past three years the Clarke County High School Choral Program has held a Madrigal Dinner as one of its fundraising events,” said choir director Dr. Ryan Keebaugh. “Traditionally, the dinner is set in the Middle Ages and is generally comedic in nature. The meal is divided into courses, each of which is heralded with a traditional song. Musical selections are performed between the courses and a concert of choral music concludes the festivities.”
The music performed at Saturday’s madrigal dinner was mixed choral music from the medieval to renaissance periods according to Keebaugh. Keebaugh said that both popular and sacred songs from the renaissance were common at madrigal dinners, although modern music with renaissance or biblical text was often heard.
“Most selections are in English, Italian, German, or French,” Keebaugh explained. “Although the dinner takes its name from the madrigal genre of music, many other styles can be heard. Christmas carols are also featured.”
Choir members wore period dress thanks to the generosity of the Charles Town Old Opera House Theatre Company and Clarke County High School drama instructor Christine Brewer. Christine’s husband, Steve Brewer is the Manager/Art Director of the popular West Virginia art venue and assisted by donating use of several costumes from the Opera House’s costume trove.
Keebaugh said that the event required weeks of planning and practice. In addition to fitting each choir member with a costume, choir members worked late on Friday night transforming the high school cafeteria into a medieval castle hall, complete with a boar’s head.
“The kids named the boar ‘Purvis’” Keebaugh joked. Keebaugh said the boar had actually been shot in Pennsylvania by the father of a choir member who graciously removed the stuffed animal head from a wall of his house so that it could make an appearance at the madrigal event.
Several selections performed at the presentation of the meal’s courses were traditional to the madrigal dinner genre. These include The Wassail Song and the Boar’s Head Carol. Although some madrigal selections incorporate small phrases of Latin or French, the presentation songs are primarily sung in English.
Each madrigal dinner has a complement of presentation music which is used every year.
True to tradition, Saturday’s performance included many favorite carols including “Silent Night” and a medieval version of “Deck the Halls.”
Between singing and performing, the madrigals also served dinner to their guests. The meal included stuffed chicken breast, stewed apples, potatoes, green beans, along with fruit tarts for dessert.
The Clarke County High School Choir was selected to represent Virginia in the National Festival of States in New York City. The huge honor for Clarke County High School also comes with a huge price tag. The 35-person student choir needs to raise $25,000 to fund the trip.
(CDN Editor’s Note: an earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Christine and Steve Brewer were owners of the Charles Town Old Opera House Theatre Company).
View video from the Madrigal Dinner here: