Anyone who knows our family well knows that we spend a good deal of time in the gymnasiums for sporting events (mainly basketball) at Floyd County High School—particularly between November and March. Last December, for a change of pace, we attended a lesser known event, but one that has been around longer even than girls’ basketball in Floyd County—the high school’s Madrigal Dinner.
We were there in support of our then eighth-grade son’s first performance with the school choir, so to commemorate this “first” in my son’s high school career, we did what all parents do—we posted colorful, smiling pictures of the event on social media – girls in extravagantly decorated dresses and young men in tights. I know it may sound strange, but the brightly colored period costumes and festive evergreens apparently caught the attention of many of our Facebook friends who commented (in short), “This looks really fun, but what the heck is it?”
The fact is, for an event with such a long history, the Madrigal Dinner is a well-kept secret. In the past, many area high schools and universities would also put on a Madrigal performance during the holidays, but today, in true Floydian fashion, our high school alone remains faithful to this ritual of yesteryear. Choral students from Floyd spanning across four decades have participated in this tradition that is, itself, centuries old.
So what happens at a Madrigal Dinner? The evening begins with “wassail” served in the lobby while guests greet each other, until the opening trumpets announce their arrival at the “Madrigal Hall,” which only hours before was still the mundane school cafeteria. Thanks to the labors of Sandra Smith, choral director, her students and several faithful adult volunteers, by dinnertime the room is swathed in colorful décor authentic to the Renaissance era. Then comes a festive dinner.
The menu, too, is inspired by Renaissance fare—green salad with rolls followed by a generous plate of roast beef (which I’ve been looking forward to since last year’s dinner), side dishes, and finally, Yorkshire pudding with whipped cream for dessert. After serving patrons their meal, members of the choir assemble to perform holiday songs, sure to set the mood for a memorable evening.
The finale consists of actual Madrigal songs, which are sure to delight and intrigue the audience, and often a guest instrumentalist. One might be surprised to learn that the lyrics and musical themes are far from traditional holiday music—in fact, most of the lyrics are more about romance and courtly love than they are about holidays. Madrigal music originated in Italy, but the music found its way to England in the days when “trends” could take a century or more to travel. In England, the Madrigal songs were often performed in small ensembles in people’s homes, at times of the year when folks were traveling to visit loved ones, such as the holidays! Hence, for now hundreds of years, it has become tradition to perform Madrigal music during the holiday season.
In Floyd, we still appreciate many traditions of the past, whether decades or centuries old. Attend the Madrigal Dinner on Dec. 14, and you just may find out why this event has endured for 35 performances at FCHS. The music and ambience will put you in a different time and place, but more importantly, will add a sense of nostalgia and magic to your advent season.
Tickets for Madrigal Dinner must be reserved no later than Thursday, Dec. 12. Contact Laura Cantrell at (540) 250-0726 for more information or to reserve tickets.