© 2024
Virginia's Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Radford University Department of Music’s Annual Evenings of Dinner, Mayhem and Renaissance Music

The chorus of holiday songs will reach a fever pitch in the next few weeks.  But there are other ways to celebrate the season.  Every year, the Radford University music department rekindles a holiday tradition known as the “Madrigal Dinner.”

“There are several pieces we’re doing this year that were found in collections of English manuscripts from the 1400s that actually are the original pieces that people started to attach the word, ‘carol’ to.  These are the first examples of what we call Christmas Carols," says David Castonguay, Director of Choral Activities? at Radford University.  For the last 26 years he’s been producing these holiday celebrations.

The intent of the evening is to share with an audience, music that they wouldn’t otherwise, necessarily hear if they were walking into a Wal-Mart or someplace where they are shopping.

In the 16th century, Madrigal dinners were all the rage in England and Castonguay helped create a version here in the 1970s when he was teaching in the mid-west. They’re part dinner theater, part holiday celebration…

The whole point of a Madrigal dinner is, Madrigals as an entertainment was something that was a personal production of people who attended a social event.  You know they couldn’t turn on their IPOD. They couldn't turn on the TV so they made music. And they made music by bringing out the instruments and part books and the participants of the evening would then perform for each other.

And in keeping with that tradition, these dinners feature small groups strolling musicians playing at tables, jesters jesting, dancers dancing and audiences participating. There’ll be a satirical production called  “Dances with Windmills (An Awkward Love Story),” inspired by Cervantes’ “Don Quixote.”

The frivolity is followed with a slightly more formal concert and these Madrigals bring the tone to something ethereal.

"There’s a musicological term called a ‘madrigalism’ where the composure paints’ in the music, either by harmony or melodic structure, the meaning of the words, so you get a direct connection to what you’re singing about in the sound of the piece and I think that’s one of the reasons why people find it arresting."

Canstonguay selected Josquin Des Prez’s Mille Regretz for this years program.. a thousand regrets I have for leaving you. It’s one of his favorites – among the first he sang as a young political science major who’d won a spot in the college choir and switched to music as a life long pursuit. 

This will be David Castonguay’s last year producing these Madrigal dinners at Radford. He’s retiring after this year from his teaching position in the music department and choral activities director. So for this year, he’s added something special to the program, a piece written for voice and water glasses by Latvian composer ?riks Ešenvalds called “Stars.”

“And for those of us who are teacher and who have labored in this field of minds, that is education, we look at stars as a way to describe the careers of our student that we’ve had where are they going from here.  And for those of us who get to the end our our teaching career that will allow us to do other things ---in my retirement I’m going to still be involved in music, it gives us a chance to look at, what’s coming before us, navigating with the stars in essence and so, when I was first attracted to that piece, I did look and I said, well you know, this one really does belong here because it gives me a chance to honor the students that have been here by saying you are the stars that are up there in heaven or they’re out now teaching and making music and it gives me a chance to reflect on where I’m going and where my wife (and I ) are going in our retirement, that the stars are going to point us in a different direction."

Radford Department of Music’s upcoming Madrigal Dinners are happening December 4th and 5th.  Tickets are on sale now for $35 for the general public or $30 with a Radford University ID (limit 2). They are available at the Bonnie Information Desk or online athere.  For more information call (540) 831-5420.

Related Content
  • Featured in the movie "The King's Speech," Beethoven's fiery, dance-inspired seventh symphony opens this all Beethoven program. Maestro Wiley is in the…
  • When Stacy Horn was 26 years old, she was divorced and miserable. She decided to join the Choral Society of Grace Church in New York. In her book Imperfect Harmony, she chronicles her 30 years with the group. Psychologist Daniel Levitin explains the brain science of group singing.