MAHOMET — Eighteen-year-old senior Jillian Jordan has been waiting a long time to be part of the Mahomet-Seymour High School Madrigal Singers.
“I’ve been wanting to be a madrigal since I was a little girl, about 4. I came to one of the dinners and I just loved it. And I’ve always loved to sing. I went to church with my grandma when I was little, so I learned there,” Jordan explained. “It is hard work. It’s so rewarding — it’s just worth it.”
The singers will continue a 37-year tradition in the community by presenting the “Madrigal Dinner,” performances depicting a Christmas celebration in a castle setting during the Renaissance. Elaborate decorations, ornate costumes of the period, humor and music combine to provide an entertaining evening to start the Christmas season on Dec. 14, and an afternoon performance Dec. 15.
The MSHS Madrigal Singers will present three performances this year: a dessert performance at 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14; a full dinner performance at 6 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 14; and a full dinner performance at 2 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 15, all at the high school.
Tickets are available online at www.msmusicboosters.org. Prices for the full dinner performances are $25 each and $12 for the Saturday afternoon dessert performance; all tickets must be purchased in advance. No tickets for any performance are sold at the door.
Tickets may be purchased until midnight on Friday, Dec. 6. No tickets will be sold after that deadline. The dinner and dessert performances will be catered by Yoder’s, according to a press release from MSHS.
Also, the madrigals will give a preview of their performances at 2 p.m. Sunday (Dec. 8) at the Mahomet Public Library, 1702 E. Oak St.
The media statement answers most people’s first question about the group: What is a “madrigal”? The word “madrigal” refers to a particular type of song that is sung without accompaniment and is written for four to eight voices, the press release states. The texts of madrigals sometimes deal with the subjects of animals or food; many madrigals talk about “love” — love from afar, unrequited love, or mourning the loss of love. Madrigal songs can also tell stories. A fa-la-la refrain often accompanies true madrigals; attendees will hear some of these during the dinner.
In addition to singing madrigal songs, this group also performs Christmas songs in “madrigal style”—singing to one another in addition to the audience. It was customary, after a large celebration in a banquet hall, to sit around the table and sing to one another as entertainment rather than watch someone else perform.
Choral Director Nicole Kuglich said the songs to be presented are designed to bring about the spirit of the Christmas season as well as to bring the audience pleasure. Another highlight of the evening is the presentation of a short play or “masque” by the singers who also act.
“Throughout the performance our students are singing a cappella music in the Renaissance style, and we tried our best to recreate the feeling of a Renaissance castle in this space,” Kuglich said Monday after a madrigals practice in the commons area of the high school. “So we have a lot of decorations that have evolved throughout the course of our 37-year history. An army of parents will come in on Friday (Dec. 13) and decorate. So from the moment you walk through the front door, you are, in theory, transported back in time to the Renaissance.”
The performance is “a very humorous play designed to make our audience laugh and to share some good humor before we go into our more serious final set of music,” she added.
As one might expect, a lot of work goes into the annual madrigal performances. But at least some of this year’s madrigals, like Jordan, have long wanted to bring their talents to the group.
“In Lincoln Trail and junior high, they’d always come down and perform for us,” said junior Kyle Widener, 16. “So ever since then I really loved seeing them and I’ve always one day wanted to be a part of it.
“I got in my freshman year — it’s a big thing because not many freshmen get in. It was a very fun experience all the three years I’ve been in it so far.
“You have to sing but at the same time you have to act because you can’t let your guard down. You have to be very professional the whole entire time. We do have to audition for this group so it’s a very professional group that you have to maintain your performance the whole entire time,” Widener explained.
“We have so much fun. We work all through the summer, so we get to become one big family. It’s nice to work with all these people for so long. We have a good time. We do work hard — for months and months,” he added. “We get together in the summer and receive our binders (which have) all of our music in (them). We start with the more traditional songs we sing every year, and then from there we start going to the new stuff that we have to learn, and then we memorize it … and you have act it out. It’s a long process.
“When we audition, we tell them what specific voice part that we sing, and then if you make it then you make it as that voice part. Once you get in the group, you can audition for specific solos that she has picked out.”
Junior Alexis Young, 17, has a comical role in one portion of the performances. Like Widener, she was inspired by the madrigals at a younger age.
“I’ve been it for three years, since I was a freshman with Kyle,” Young said. “Like Kyle, I saw them come to Lincoln Trail and junior high, and it was really cool. I wasn’t much into singing — I was more into sports — and then my sister was in it too, and I kind of look up to her and do everything that she does, so I tried out for it too.
“I’m one of the ladies — I’m an alto, the alto 2, so I sing the lowest ‘lady’ notes, which is really fun just ‘cause it’s different than chorus, since this is more difficult music,” she explained. “We don’t normally sing this low in regular chorus. And it’s cool because I’m in drama and then I’m also just in chorus and it’s just a mixture of that, kind of putting together — not only are you singing but you’re acting all the time, so it’s really good experience.”
Kuglich is in her eighth year with Mahomet-Seymour schools and her second as head choral director for the madrigals; she started as assistant director to Jill Rinkel, who retired in 2018.
When all is said and done and showtime is at hand, stage fright is no problem for Kuglich.
“By the time that we get to the actual performance, usually, with rare exception, I am completely calm for the most part, because it’s their performance,” she said. “You’ve rehearsed it so much that you’re just excited for them, to see what they do, and to experience the audience response to their music.
“It’s just such a joyous exchange of holiday cheer,” Kuglich added. “I just am excited and so very proud of them. No real jitters for me. I don’t have to do anything; I don’t even have to speak. I have to do nothing. My responsibility is to make sure everything is running smoothly and to make sure all the different components are happening, but for the most part, I’m not out in front of anyone performing or doing anything like that.
“So for me, it’s a really fun experience, because it’s just me enjoying what my students have accomplished in the last six months.”
As for performance-day nerves, the singers, too, seem to have that under control.
“If I have to sing a solo, my hands get all sweaty,” Jordan admitted. But she added, “If it’s in general I think that when you put in the practice and the preparation then you don’t have to be nervous anymore.”
The Mahomet-Seymour Madrigals, directed by Nicole Kuglich, and assisted by Brian Lonergan, is the premier ensemble of the Mahomet-Seymour High School Choral Program. Initiated in 1983 by former director Janet Watkins, this extracurricular group rehearses two afternoons per week to prepare for three Madrigal Dinner performances. In addition to the dinner performances, the Madrigals entertain many other groups and participate in Solo and Ensemble Contest.
The 2019-20 Madrigal singers include Lord Maxwell Bartlett, Lord Luca Bellini, Lord Logan Burdette, Lord Ryan Bushell, Lady Nicolina Di Girolamo, Lady Elizabeth Hanson, Lord Liam Henry, Lady Jillian Jordan, Lady Delaney King, Lord Kyle Kinnamon, Lady Abigail Loven, Lady Miranda Morrissette, Lady Averhy Sanborn, Lady Emma Schwaiger, Lady Jessica Smith, Lord Wyatt Taber, Lord Kyle Widener, Lady Neenah Williams, Lady Alexis Young, Lord Ty Zindars, Wench Leah Nykaza and Jester Kade Kinnamon.
The Madrigal Brass are directed by Phil Meyer and the Madrigal Recorder Consort is directed by Sue Keeble. Additional special roles, filled by members of the MSHS Choirs within the dinners include Pages, Head of Servers, Serving Wenches, Litter Bearers, Stage Managers, Town Crier and Servers.