Second chance: Madrigal cast reflects on cut Feaste

Bobby Shipman

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The 45th Annual Madrigal Feaste cast practices a dance routine Monday in prep for the renaissance themed dinner. Photo by Alyssa Smith/The Shield


Lindsey Tudor’s hopes were dashed in December 2013 when the 44th Annual Madrigal Feaste was cancelled due to inclement weather conditions.

The 15th century Ireland themed event is the oldest tradition on USI’s campus.

Its four-nights of festivities feature the USI Chamber Choir dressed as characters from an Irish royal court in West Coast County Clare singing classic holiday tunes and treating guests to a meal for kings.

For many who attend and participate, The Madrigal Feaste is the catalyst for the Christmas season.

“It really gets you excited for Christmas, especially when you’ve been doing it for so long. And it’s really fun, and it’s really a happy thing,” Tudor said. “This is choir. I love choir and that’s everything I love to do. And not being able to do that feels like all of your hopes and dreams have been crushed on the ground.”

The Feaste would have been Tudor’s third time singing with the Chamber Choir—and her last. “I cried, and a couple other people did too, particularly because I knew I wouldn’t be able to do it this year (2014),” the senior psychology major said.

Tudor would have played the role of the Lady of the court. In 2014’s show, she will be a page where she will run in props throughout the show that correspond with the songs.

“The reason that I’m a page is because choir, especially this choir, means so much to me, that anyway I can be a part of it, even when it’s stressful, helps make me a happier person,” she said.

Tudor said she could not participate in Chamber Choir this year because her schedule is packed tight with classes.

Rehearsals begin in October each year and Tudor said she estimates that the cast spends over 100 hours working toward the Feaste and that the process of transforming Carter Hall into a renaissance banquet hall takes about 12 hours.

“We set that all up ourselves,” she said.

Tudor said she is lucky to still be a part of the royal reenaction because much of the cast were seniors last year and missed out on their final chance. Senior psychology major Anna Reibel is one of just a handful of returning choir members and said the new cast is heavily involved. “

Usually this, in the past years, is the time where we really connect and get to know each other,” Reibel said, “but it seems, with this group, we already have that friendship. So it’s nice. It’s a good group.”

This will be Reibel’s fourth and final Madrigal Feaste.

“It’s bittersweet. It’ll definitely be something I miss, but I will return and be an audience member,” Reibel said.

Reibel attended a large school up north and when she came down south to USI, she never dreamed she would be a part of such an old and popular tradition.

“I didn’t imagine that coming south would bring me into something that’s been around since the school, pretty much, became the University of Southern Indiana,” she said. “It’s great. I am glad I fell into it and have stuck around.”

The head wench at 2014’s Madrigal Feaste is played by senior special education and early childhood education double major Erin Wolford.

Wolford’s role is to take care of everything outside of what the choir does, she said, such as serve the people on stage their wassail and water with her three serving wenches.

She will also take car of coat check and help with audience participation all while attempting and Irish accent, she said.

“Another wonderful thing about our part is that we have bright red lipstick and if there are guys that have a bald spot or a bald head – and their wives are OK with it – we go up and go, ‘Oh, it’s just too shiny here. We’ve got to put something there’,” she said. “And we’ll give them a giant red kiss on their head.”

She said moms and grandmas will also ask them to kiss their children on the hand or the cheeks.

“It’s really just about interacting with the audience so that they know we are enjoying that they’re here and we’re happy that they came to spend Christmas time with us,” Wolford said.

She said the entire cast was heartbroken when they heard the news their show would be cancelled.

“We put so much time and effort into this and we weren’t able to share it. And for me especially, this is the way I start my Christmas season,” she said. “I’ve done this four years before and I always enjoy being around these people and talking to the people who come. It didn’t really feel like Christmas last year because I wasn’t able to participate.”

Wolford looks forward to this year’s Feaste because she said the cast is working twice as hard to make-up for the lost performances.

“I am super excited. I mean, I am more excited than I have been any other year because it’s been such a long time since I got to do this,” she said. “I feel like I have more gusto and oomph.”

Although icy roads kept guests from arriving in 2013, this week’s weather forecast does not appear treacherous. From Thursday to Sunday, predicts a low of 32 degrees Saturday and a high of 54 degrees Sunday. The forecast shows no signs of snow but a 5 percent chance of rain Thursday and 100 percent chance on Friday.

Madrigal Feast 1973

The Mid-America Singers gather around the dinner table at the 3rd Annual Madrigal Feaste in the Administration Building in 1973. Photo by Wes Messex/The Shield (1973)

45 years of merriment

The Madrigal Feaste premiered 45 years ago when the ISUE Mid-American Singers combined with some members of another ISUE group called the University Singers, said Chamber Choir Director Daniel Craig.

“This was a project that was to show the campus off to the community,” Craig said. “To invite the community in to see what USI was doing in its early stages.”

The Feaste was presented by a much smaller group under the direction of David Deeg than the current 40-member choir and was held in the building that currently holds the backside of the forums, he said.

“Once they built the University Center, the next step was to bring (The Madrigal Feaste) into what we now call The Loft,” he said. “ And then once the University Center was renovated in the 90s and Carter Hall came into being, we moved it in there.”

Craig has directed the choir for 24 years and has seen the performance evolve through the years.

“ You have to evolve with the changing face of your campus and the changing face of those who are enrolling in the courses. There are a few differences from the old days, but there are also a lot of similarities,” he said.

Some of the prop pieces, banners and cloth remain in use from the premiere production.

“The menu, of course, changes from season to season, so we’re not using Yorkshire pudding anymore,” he said. “We do change some things out form time-to-time to meet more modern pallets.”

This year’s menu consists of tossed green salad, hot wassail (spiced cider), soup of beef and barley, his majesty’s roast chicken, holiday roasted potatoes and fresh steamed vegetables and bread pudding with rum sauce.

Although the traditional songs stay the same, much of the music changes form year to year as well.

“The music is stirring, beautiful. The audience gets to participate in two dancers through the evening,” Craig said. “We have a ton of absolutely beautiful music in our concert this year. Everything from the Middle Ages to some more modern pieces as well.”

Selections include old English Madrigals and Irish traditional folk music.

“During this time period most of the country was being run by British Royalty and we have a gathering of a lord and a lady in a manor hall in West Coast County Clare and invited all of the people from that area to come in,” he said.

Carter Hall which can hold up to 320 people is a heavily used room on campus so when all four nights were cancelled in 2013, rescheduling proved impossible.

“It takes several days to set the room up for the feast,” Craig said. “Another factor that goes into that is the selling of tickets, people have chosen their particular night. Having to reschedule becomes a nightmare of logistics, refunds and new sales that we just simply do not have a box office capable of handling.”

The main reason they did not reschedule was due to lack of space on campus and students’ upcoming final exams, Craig said.

“It was terribly disappointing for (the cast), there were a lot of students that were participating for their last time,” he said. “Some of whom had been participating all four years of their college experience. So it was a very emotional time.”

All guests were fully refunded their ticket costs.

The money brought in from the Madrigal Feaste helps to support the choir’s International travel and operating budget.

Over the years the Chamber Choir has traveled to Carnegie Hall in New York and performed in castles cathedrals and concert halls in Ireland, Poland and Germany.

The have done seven shows in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin, Ireland, sang at the largest Cathedral in the world in Gdańsk, Poland and at the largest castle in the world Malbork, Poland.

“To see a students marvel at the beautiful scenery in Ireland, to a student be amazed at the acoustics in a grand cathedral and understand that we are privileged to have the opportunity to perform in that cathedral is one of the highlights for me,” he said. “International travel is a life changing occurrence in the life of a student.”

The 45th Madrigal Feaste will show at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday at Carter Hall. Tickets are $34 for adults and $28 for students and senior citizens. Reserve tickets online at or call 812-461-5237.

“This is Evansville’s greatest opportunity to start of your holiday season,” Craig said. “The singing will really set you in tune for the holiday.”

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