Drexel Chamber Singers Want You to Party Like it’s 1585

Ladies from the 2014 Madrigal Dinner

Calling all lords and ladies: It’s that time of year again where students and faculty may sup and jest at the Drexel Chamber Singers’ Renaissance-themed Madrigal Dinner, held in Ye Olde Great Court in Main Building.

But hark! This very performance will be one-of-a-kind, as 2015 marks the 25th anniversary of the very first Renaissance dinner at Drexel.

The first feast took place all the way back in 1561.

Well, the event took place in 1991, but for those two special nights, everyone feasted, danced, sang and dressed as if it were Elizabethan times. The next year, in 1992, students celebrated as if it were 1562. Just like that, a Drexel tradition was born.

To celebrate the Drexel Madrigal Feast’s milestone birthday and enhance the experience, 100 Drexel alums and former Chamber Singers have been contacted about attending.

It’s all thanks to Steven Powell, D.Mus., head of the performing arts department, music professor in the Antoinette Westphal College of Media Arts & Design and director of choral activities. As the director of the Drexel Chamber Singers, Powell was inspired to hold a madrigal dinner at Drexel in only his second year as a faculty member.

“At the time, Drexel’s choral program was quite small and the Chamber Singers were just a group of 11 singers who did a short segment in the University Chorus concert each term. I wanted them to have their own event and I kept returning to the idea of a madrigal dinner,” he explained.

At the time, madrigal dinners had been widely held on college campuses for 15 or 20 years and were always a popular event. But nothing had ever been attempted at Drexel, until Powell stepped in.

Madrigals are songs of love gained and lost sung by small groups of singers, sometimes with light instrumentals. Often performed at feasts and celebrations, the music eventually came to define the way the modern world celebrates Renaissance dinners.

The first madrigal dinner at Drexel was such a success that the night sold out before some of the student singers could even purchase tickets for their families, so a second night was quickly added. Since then, the dinners have always been held on two nights, with 90 seats available per night.

Members of the Drexel community, as well as those interested in Renaissance culture and playacting, are invited to attend. This year’s dinner will be held on Feb. 27 and 28 at 7:30 p.m.

All of the student singers and entertainers (such as jugglers and jesters) will don historically accurate period pieces. Audience members are invited to wear their own Renaissance costumes if they have them. Costume or no, a willingness to participate in the evening’s events is a must, as antics and capers always ensue.

During the two-hour family-style dinner and show, the choral singers perform madrigals, act in character (there are lords, ladies and two “arrogant visitors” from the Spanish Court), and recount tales and stories. And no courtly dinner is complete without majestic sword fighting and uproarious jesting!

“The overall experience is great for learning about history and singing music from a classic period in time. The costumes make the experience very authentic and we practice the script to make it as realistic as possible,” said Alexis Wolfer, an undergraduate student in the LeBow College of Business who will participate in her fourth madrigal dinner this year.

The anniversary will make this year’s dinner all the more festive and historical.  Powell has even programmed some madrigals that the alums would have sung in their Drexel days and could quickly pick up again, even with the passage of time.

“Speaking as an educator, I'd like to say that the opportunity to learn about the events taking place 400 years ago, and surmounting the musical challenges of the four- and five-part polyphonic music we do during the concert portion of the event, is the best part of the experience for the students,” said Powell. “If I were being honest, though, I'd have to concede that they'll probably remember dressing up in fancy costumes, having improvised interactions with the audience, and surviving the sword fight.”

During the Renaissance, only the nobles and elite would attend madrigal feasts, but, luckily for the Drexel community, the Chamber Singers are more inclusive. Tickets for dinner and the show on Feb. 27 and 28 are $21.95 and can be purchased here; tickets for balcony seats (without dinner) are available for $3. Don’t miss this raucous evening of madrigals, lute songs, chivalry and eating!