Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The long winter nap of The MadriGalz

Tonight the Feast of the Epiphany marks the end of the Christmas season on the Christian calendar. As the fading winter light spills through the oak leaves, this means it's also time to say good night to the MadriGalz as winter hibernation begins. To mark the occasion and tip our hats to Cafe Alcazar, here's A Brief History of The MadriGalz.

Long ago, the magical power of St. Augustine to summon creative people together resulted in the arrival of a remarkable Dominican nun, Sister Patricia Eileen Consier, who assumed the duties of music director at the Basilica-Cathedral. (Was everyone delighted? Not by a long shot, but that's a tale for another night, my dears.) This amazing, demanding, gifted woman took a small church choir and dissected it into voices, the better to re-assemble according to the unique abilities of each. It was very much an evolution, and over the course of more than 20years, it looked different in every snapshop. It's a rich source of storytelling ore, likely to be mined early and often at Eat Here. For purposes of this story, it's enough to tell you that SPE, as she was (never to her face) called, helped some of us discover that our bodies harbored voices we'd never imagined: bigger, sweeter, richer...was this us? Could it possibly be? And it was. In many hours of choral rehearsals, individual voice lessons, small ensemble singing and vocalise practices in the classic bel canto style, she polished away at our modest talents and made the most of some voices that might otherwise never have been raised in song. Judy, for instance, the MadriGal to beat all MadriGalz, had been told it was a good thing she could play oboe, because she damned sure couldn't sing. Imagine.

So there was a madrigal group in St. Augustine. It was a good group, too, well-balanced, with about 14 or 16 voices, lovely historically accurate period costumes and a beautiful reportoire of Renaissance madrigals and carols. As time passed, key members dropped out for one reason or another, and SPE shifted her penetrating musical gaze to meet other needs. The madrigal group got smaller and smaller and in the end it quietly stopped performing.

The simple joy of singing is known to most everyone, even if we only sing to ourselves in the shower or when we're driving. Singing with other people intensifies the joy. For me, singing with a small group of other women in close harmony is one of the most profound physical experiences life offers: nestled in the arms of the other voices, my own is sweetened and made finer until it even seems to be akin to something, well, holy.

So for a time, Judy and I sang madrigals informally, and occasionally even rented costumes and worked it as a gig. We did this in three-part harmony with our old friend Tracy, a remarkable soprano who can't read music but whose voice could embarrass angels into silence. (This amazing friend and her voice are topics for a future tale, dears; stay tuned.) We even did a four-part setting for awhile with another friend, Teresa, a mezzo with whom we loved to sing. One Christmas, the four of us snuck into the Cathedral and recorded a small tape, and gave copies as holiday gifts. But Teresa and Tracy both moved away, so once again, the madrigal group rooted at the Cathedral slipped off unnoticed. Back into hibernation it went.

Time passed. And once again, the power of St. Augustine to bring about intersections of creative people and art exercised its gentle influence. This time the intersection brought about the crossing of Judy's path, and mine, with that of Lis Williamson. Regionally well-known and locally famous for her work with a variety of bluegrass and folk bands, Lis was a marvelous talent and Judy and I had admired her for years. The truth is that I'd been awed by Lis for years from a distance, and up close, I found an even more magnetic and humble beauty than could be seen fron a distance. Judy and I talked it over and we asked the question, and to our amazement Lis said she'd love to try singing with us. The MadriGalz were conceived in the living room of a house on Rohde Avenue. Not too many months later, the project came alive in several spaces, the most notable of which continues to be the deep end of the pool, at Cafe Alcazar.

The Madz had a busy season this year. We were delighted to carol at Creekside Dinery, one or two private holiday parties and, for the first time, Cowboy's Restaurant. We missed Cafe Alcazar this year; perhaps with some luck the Cafe will be back on its feet soon. And we finished the holidays on New Year's Eve, singing Blue Moon with Lis as she debuted her solo CD, Deep, and welcomed the New Year on a real, true, honest-to-goodness blue moon. In fact we sang a loose version of that very song, accompanied by a genuine band...there were our much-loved Lon Williamson, Gabe Valla, Jason Thomas and Rocky Tabyanan, playing with US. Imagine. What a year.

So we hibernate, think about our song list, and maybe even manage a rehearsal or two, and we watch for the days to grow longer, spring to lighten us, summer to warm us and ripen our gardens, and the fall equinox to remind us that the light retreats again. Until then, I have lots of stories to tell you. They should keep us busy until The MadriGalz step out and stretch, warm up our voices, and sing, "Here we come a-wassailing, among the leaves so green..."...


  1. All right. One of these days I'm going to see you ladies live. I swear I am.

  2. Let's make it this year, if we can? It would be wonderful--and I am completely fantasizing here--if you could be with us during the Season (late November/early December) and we had a Gatorbone sleepover....I know. It's too much to think of, but still...


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