SHS Madrigals perform 25th Christmas classic

By Lauri Voter - Staff Writer
Stafford - posted Fri., Dec. 9, 2011
The SHS Madrigals hosted their 25th Madrigal Feaste in three performances held on Dec. 2, 3 and 4. Photos by Lauri Voter.
The SHS Madrigals hosted their 25th Madrigal Feaste in three performances held on Dec. 2, 3 and 4. Photos by Lauri Voter.

The Stafford High School Madrigals celebrated Christmas in full Renaissance fashion when they performed their 25th annual Madrigal Feaste. Performances were held on Dec. 2, 3 and 4 in the Stafford High School cafeteria. To share in the silver occasion, Stafford High School Music Director Laurie Dillon said that 67 past music students returned to SHS over the weekend to see the performances.

In 1987, when the first feast was held, “I started out with 18 kids,” said Dillon. As the years progressed, the Madrigals were joined by music department students, the concert choir and the jazz band. The 25th feast was served and performed by an ensemble of 110 students, who sang dozens of traditional carols and folk songs, performed a Maypole number, danced and presented a short play.

Back in 1987, the set was a bit simpler, too - it was just the king’s table, made from four planks. Gradually, over the years, Dillon said that with assistance from her husband, Timothy Dillon, the set has expanded to become its present-day, full castle, complete with shields and figurines in armor.

Indeed, on Dec. 4, the SHS cafeteria “Dog House” was well-disguised as a classic castle, with costumed performers balancing the carrying of tunes with the serving of meals, all while singing non-stop in the dimly-lit arena. The performers transitioned from number to number, keeping a constant and rapid pace that engaged the audience.

Dillon has her share of experience in organizing the Madrigal Feaste. “I’ve been doing feasts since I was a freshman in college,” she said. “It’s an old tradition, and it’s sort of my baby.”

The years of practice added up to a 25th performance that seemed to transport the audience back in time for an afternoon of fanfare and Christmas tradition that included the serving of wassail, the presentation of a real boar’s head, and the performing of classical guitar pieces. Even the creation of dozens of costumes seemed seamless. Dillon said that her mother made costumes for her in her college days, and continued by creating the Renaissance attire for the SHS Madrigal Feaste when it first began. Now, many of the students contribute their own costumes.

Behind the scenes each year, parent volunteers assist by setting up the staging and cooking the meal, helping to create an event that is “fit for a king.”

“The Music Boosters have been the mainstay of the entire kitchen help for 25 years. Patrice Talamini has led the charge in her position with the food service for [the] Stafford Board of Education,” said Dillon. “Parents work tirelessly preparing the food, dishing it out, washing the dishes. Without the support of the custodians and cafeteria help, the Feaste just would not take place,” said Dillon.

“I think the kids look forward to it. The music is worth it, and then we move on,” said Dillon. Traditionally, each year’s performance concludes by giving senior performers a poinsettia plant.

As part of this year's event, the Madrigals collected fund and food donations. As of Dec. 6, they raised more than $750 and collected at least 200 canned goods, which were donated to Safe Net Ministries.

A Madrigal Feaste 25th anniversary Facebook page has been established, where past and present participants, students and others may post comments and view pictures.

The SHS Madrigals will continue to keep busy during the holiday season. The public is invited to hear the SHS Madrigals as they perform on Dec. 15 at 6:45 p.m. at the Italian Club in Stafford Springs; Dec. 16 at 6 p.m. at Old Sturbridge Village in Sturbridge, Mass.; Dec. 18 at 2 p.m. at Gillette Castle in East Haddam; Dec. 19 at Evergreen in Stafford Springs at 2:30 p.m., Blair Manor in Enfield at 4 p.m. and the Enfield Mall at 6 p.m.; and on Dec. 22 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Trolley Museum in East Windsor.

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