Madrigal Christmas Dinner an annual tradition at WHS


Although it was postponed for a week, Waterloo High School’s annual Madrigal Christmas Dinner entertained hundreds of audience members this past weekend.

The dinner was originally scheduled for Dec. 7 and 8, but was postponed after the WHS parking lot was deemed too dangerous in the icy and snowy conditions.

This year marked the 38th year of the madrigal dinner, with performances Saturday night and Sunday afternoon.

A madrigal is a vocal musical composition, typically with a Renaissance theme.

From left, Elise Eggemeyer (Queen Bee), Collin Kanyuck (King Crab), Veronica Steibel (Princess Anthepea), Samantha John- son (Winifred the Holly Maid) and Reilly Brown (Rosamund the Holly Maid) sing during the Madrigal Christmas Dinner at WHS on Sunday. Click the photo to view and purchase photos from the dinner. (Robyn Dexter photo)

WHS choral director Carrie Munsell said a traditional madrigal dinner is supposed to have 16 to 24 singers, but Waterloo has adapted the tradition to include all choral members.

The dinner included a ceremonial procession into the cafeteria, solos sung by WHS students, comedy skits and interaction with the audience, all while they enjoyed a meal catered by Mission Catering in Columbia.

After the meal, solos and skits, the audience and performers moved into the auditorium for a short winter concert.

Choir members made their way into the auditorium in a candlelight procession as they sang a medley of traditional Christmas carols, inviting the audience to sing along.

“Every year, we sing the hallelujah chorus,” Munsell said. “And each year, former members are invited up to sing it with us. This can range from students who just graduated last year to 70-year-olds.”

From left, Jason Merryman (The Royal Page) and Jacob Poettker (Sir Robert Roberts the Redundant) process into the WHS cafeteria with the ceremonial boar’s head. (Robyn Dexter photo)

Munsell said this traditional event shows the longevity of what WHS is about.

“We always have positive feedback (on the dinner),” she said. “People who haven’t had students in high school for years still come back.”

Before Munsell became the director, Barb Boedges was in charge of the madrigal dinner at WHS for 26 years.

“We were very small when we started out,” Boedges said. “We had 30 kids in chorus and were struggling to get involvement.”

In 1977, Boedges said it was “critical” that the high school had something each year that featured everyone.

She wanted to bring a new type of event to Waterloo – a tradition that dates back more than 400 years: a madrigal dinner.

“We chose to use the traditional carols, serve the traditional menu, and, in place of costuming, to perform in long dresses and suits,” she said.

After the first year of the dinner, Boedges said the community response was absolutely overwhelming.

“We started building some pride,” she said. “(The madrigal dinner) did what it needed to do for the program and also did something special for the community.”

By the mid-1980s, the WHS chorus had grown to more than 100 members, and by the 1990s, membership would reach more than 200.

Traditions such as the singing of “Masters in this Hall” and “The Boar’s Head Carol” have been sung since the Renaissance era and continue to be a part of the program each year.

Boedges said she is so pleased with how Munsell has continued and adapted the program.

“She has not only continued the madrigal dinner traditions which we began and established over the first 26 years, but she has added some of the Renaissance costuming, the madrigal players, a skit and some of the fun interaction between the players and the audience,” Boedges said.

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