By BRIANA GUST
Lords, ladies, jesters, a king and a queen transformed an ordinary gymnasium into a scene out of the 16th century.
West Junior High School’s choral department hosted the 22nd annual Madrigal Dinner on Saturday, Oct. 30. The traditional performance featured the 70 voices of the Bella Voce, Mixed Madrigal and Male Ensemble choirs.
The night began with pre-feast festivities involving singing damsels, who were dressed head to toe in Renaissance costumes, and maypole dances. During the maypole dances, men from the crowd were encouraged to join in on the fun — while the shy ones moved to the back, a few brave ones learned the dance.
The town crier opened the doors to the banquet hall, and guests were instructed to find their tables, “mind their manners and listen to hosts announcing table letters,” according to the program provided.
“Lords” and “Ladyes” with comical contemporary names, such as Lord Alejandro and Lady Gaga, entered as the royal court into the banquet hall.
Three “fanfares,” or acts, followed until the dismissal to dinner by the comical jester, played by Nora Hennessy. Food was provided by University Catering, and members of the choirs took orders for beverages and deserts.
Guests who were waiting to eat were entertained by “traveling minstrels, magicians, thespians, solicitors, comedians, gymnasts, artists and all such manner of frivolity as is imaginable.”
Lisa Griggs, parent of Sydney Griggs, said she really enjoyed the evening.
“I enjoy all of the madrigal dinner events,” Griggs said. “It’s a great evening. The food was great. I wasn’t expecting this much.”
James Melton, director of choirs at West Junior, said the school continues to perform music from the madrigal period because the literature is great for junior high students to sing.
“It fits their voices and mental preparedness well,” Melton said. “It also is a great educational opportunity. The language in the music is direct lineage of what we speak everyday.”
Though the old English is difficult for students to learn, Melton said he was very pleased with the outcome of the students’ performance.
“I am just amazed. I’m so pleasantly surprised and overwhelmed,” Melton said. “As a teacher, especially a performance teacher, you get very anxious because you take your test and display it in public.”
Melton said he also enjoys teaching the students other life lessons as well.
“For the kids to interact in a way that is so well-mannered, it causes them to think of themselves in a different way. Even just for a short amount of time,” Melton said. “I would love a world where every kid grows up to be a great singer and loves choir, but I’m very realistic. What I’m really trying to do is give them skills for later on in life.”
The night finished with desert, dancing, a royal masque and a concert. The audience applauded the success of the students’ performance, achieved by determination and countless hours of practice.
Melton said the community can look forward to their next big performance in the spring, “The Pajama Game.” The show will be a collaborative effort between the theater and choir departments.