UMR's madrigal dinners:
a holiday tradition for 30 years
|Each year the University of Missouri-Rolla presents
Collegium Musicum, a celebration of Renaissance music performed by
students, faculty and community volunteers. Above: singers in costume
rehearse for the madrigal dinners.
If the University
of Missouri at Rolla isn’t well known for its
support of the arts it’s not the fault of the folks who hang out
at Castleman Hall, the first home specifically built for the performing
arts at UMR. The university, best known for its engineering program,
has more than its share of culture centered around the hall, which offers
an art gallery, theater and music classrooms to round out the education
of its students.
This time of year
the hall resounds with a buffet of music that puts the listener in
a holiday mood. The frantic pace of rehearsals signals the beginning
of a holiday tradition on the campus.
For the past 30 years
Musicum” has kicked
off the holiday season for Rolla residents by hosting an elaborate Christmas
madrigal dinner. Part feast, part theater and part Renaissance-era concert,
the madrigal dinners welcome the holidays in Old World fashion, says
Joel Kramme, the group’s director.
supposed to be a recreation of a Renaissance feast in the great hall
of either the nobility or the wealthy merchant class, whatever you
want to call it,” he says. “In this day and age madrigal
dinners tend to take on an aura of humor. It’s been part of it
but it has kind of taken over. So it gets kind of schmaltzy.”
madrigal dinners, set for Dec. 4-6 this year, begin with a musical
invitation to the feast from one of the performers. The guests are
ushered in to the sound of processional music. They are invited to
toast the wassail, a traditional English drink made with cider and
spices. And then they toast the boar’s head as
it is carried in by a procession.
Compton gets advice from Joel Kramme, director of the Collegium
Musicum. Kramme has been leading the groups of gifted musicians
and instrumentalists for nearly 30 years.
Song and dance continue
as the meal’s
various courses are carried out by wenches, more performers dressed
in period costumes. During the meal, guests are entertained by storytellers,
fencers, mimes, jugglers and singers. The meal ends with a 30-minute
concert featuring the madrigal singers.
a lot like theater, a dinner theater really,” says Stephanie
Boyll, a business major from Houston, Mo., who performs as the head
music is just fabulous. The thought and care put into it is just
amazing. I like all of it, the costumes, music, the whole etiquette,
the lifestyles, the social classes.”
The dinners got their
start when Joel left the university to do graduate studies. His replacement
hailed from Indiana University where they had a madrigal dinner. “He
thought it would be a good thing to start here,” Joel recalls. “When
I got back I continued and added the instrumentalists.”
says the Collegium Musicum has its roots in the 17th century
when amateur musicians came together for the performance of serious
music. The most famous was the Collegium founded at the University
of Lepzig that Johann Sebastian Bach later took part in.
present-day revival started in England in 1858 and spread throughout
the world. Once most universities had a group like UMR’s devoted
to music from the Medieval, Renaissance or Baroque periods.
However few collegiums exist today, especially on small campuses
A grant from the
chencellor’s office provided the
funds to do things right. Today’s UMR Collegium has more
than $100,000 worth of unusual reproduction instruments, most made
cast member Katie Reed rehearses.
to recognize the instruments being played by “Ye Grayte
Noyse” as the three instrumental groups of the Collegium
are sometimes called. They play authentic reproductions
of instruments common to Bach’s
The “Waytes,” for
example, play the sackbut which at first glance appears to be a modern
trombone. “It’s the equivalent of the modern
trombone but it comes in three sizes,” Joel says. “There
is a tenor, modern trombone size. That is joined by a
smaller version called the alto and a larger version,
considerably larger, called the bass sackbut.”
alto sackbut is a mere 2 feet long while the bass instrument
is close to 8 feet in length. The musician needs an
extension handle to reach all of its slide positions. By using
an alto, two tenors and a bass sackbut the group offers
a four-part ensemble that can play most of the music
of that period.
Sometimes the Waytes
are joined by a musician playing a shawm, a Middle-Eastern instrument
once used to call the faithful to prayer in Muslim countries. They
also might use a cornetto, which is a wind instrument made
of leather-covered wood.
Minstrels” play woodwind instruments
like recorders, or straight flutes. They also play krumhorns (a double reed
instrument that is the ancestor of today’s oboe) and curtal (the 16th
century predecessor of the modern bassoon).
The third ensemble
is called “Private
Musick.” Its members play stringed
instruments including the viola da gamba, a six-stringed
instrument held between the legs and played with a bow. “Bach wrote
some incredible music for the bass viola da gamba,” Joel says.
three groups are joined by the “Madrigal Singers,” three
or four groups that rehearse separately. They sing
traditional Christmas carols such as “O Come All Ye Faithful” and “Hark
the Herald, Angels Sing” but with six- to eight-part harmony.
"Waytes" horn ensemble plays the sacbut, a medieval trombone-like
instrument that comes in three sizes, from 2 to 8 feet long.
music in the course of the evening would not be something most people
would recognize unless of course they had
gone to the Renaissance Festival in Kansas City or any other Renaissance
Altogether, 28 to
32 musicians make up the Collegium. While most are students, some faculty
members, former students and faculty spouses
also take part so the group has some carry
over from year to year. The script for the
dinners is new each year, although the elaborate
stage, featuring real stained glass, gets reused.
Known for its host
of near-genius students, UMR offers a madrigal dinner that is first
class. The many gifted students are naturals on their unusual instruments.
The Collegium Musicum gives them a chance to blow off some steam after
the pressures of difficult engineering classes.
the Dec. 2-4, 2004 dinners, available at the Performing Arts Office,
127 Castleman Hall, cost $25 for the general public or $20 for students.
A special $5 price is available for students who want to attend but
not eat. For more information call (573) 341-4185.