Monday, October 4, 2010

The MadriGalz: A Short History

If I'm to make an honest start I have to tell you that's a lie: there is either no short version of the MadriGalz, or (and this is much more likely) I'm constitutionally incapable of telling a short story. Oh, and there's shameless self-promotion. The MagriGalz made a CD and we'd love for you to buy it. But either way, get a glass of wine and settle in. It's a good story, although in fairness, most of you probably know it already.

The photo at the top was taken looking from one end of the Cafe Alcazar to the other end, where (the teeny tiny black figures of) the MadriGalz (Judy - short; Lis - tall and elegant; me - bossy and probably laughing) usually stand when we sing our Christmas carols at a certain time of year when we perform at the Alcazar. If you don't know the history of the buiding, it was an elegant, luxurious vacation destination if you were in the John D. Rockefeller set in about the 1880s. This room was the swimming pool. It had (and has) three stories of a view, and the space occupied in this shot by our friends and family was filled with water. The Cafe Alcazar sits in what was the deep end of the pool all those years ago. If you visit you can feel the coquina/tabby floor sloping away under your feet and it's easy to hear the echoing voices of another century. My dear old person has a million shots of the space but it's late and I can't find them, so you'll have to trust me. Also lining the walls along what would have been the floor of the pool are several charming antique shops, where you can find precious jewels, paintings, linens and other delicious antiquities; I've sometimes done all my holiday shopping right then and there.

If you fast forward to about 2005, and up to the present day, you find a simple a capella trio, marking the holidays with close-sung harmonies. Funny, because we crossed paths again and again and again, and St. Augustine being what it is, we eventually found each other. I've told you pieces of this story before, but here's the backbone of it.

Sometime in the late 70s I was sneaked into The Tradewinds (the bar that shared a wall with The Booksmith) to hear Gamble Rogers and by some accident of booking or timing or whatever, the band on stage was Rose Tattoo. Lis was the singer, and I was lost. My dream? To meet her, to know her, to be her friend, to - dare I write it? - sing with her. It didn't happen like that, although I did move on the outskirts of her social circle, but we didn't begin a friendship. Not then, at least. Years slid past.

A few years later I began a long connection with the music ministry at the Cathedral of St. Augustine, and met Judy. Far from my own notice, Sister Patricia had a careful eye on Judy. Nothing happened with the speed of fairy tale magic, but eventually I found out some key things about Judy - and so did SPE, who might have been talent searching like Major League baseball scout. Judy was smart; she could read music (I'd been faking the ability for years!) and her vocal range gradually revealed itself. She played an instrument and not just ANY instrument; she played the oboe, which is one of the most difficult voices in the orchestra. And vocally, though this wasn't recognized at the time, there was very little she could NOT do: I think it took SPE some length of time to realize that Judy had a vocal range apporaching 5 octaves. She didn't have absolute pitch, as it's sometimes called, but her ear for harmonies was pitch-perfect. We studied together and separately with our much-loved Sister Patricia, and there was no moment spent in Judy's company during which I thought myself worthy to be called anything but a HOPELESS DORK, with (oh by the way) NO talent. Judy never sought the spotlight (if anything, the very opposite) but she could be in the light and if you were with her, your vocal performance was a no-brainer.

More YEARS went by, years in which my path crossed the paths of both Lis and Judy intermittently. Judy and I sang in different configurations of vocal groups, some brightened by people like Joan Taylor (whose voice is positively golden and unchanged by teaching) and Tracy Webb (whose voice transcends golden and has the unspeakable grace of making every other voice singing with her sound, simply, more beautiful). And St. Augustine being what it is, Judy and I also found ourselves in a madrigal ensemble Sister Patricia cooked up, called The Madrigal Singers. This group of about a dozen voices was often hired out during the holidays and the proceeds donated to the Music Ministry. I became one of 3 or 4 altos, wearing a costume kindly made for me by others, and loved it. Maybe because I cannot remember a time, even in earliest childhood, in which I couldn't hear 3- or 4- part harmonies in my head, I felt as if I'd come to the finishing school of my dreams. I did not dare tell this to SPE, though I did tell it to Judy after some years, and I'm sure I told it to Lis as well.

At some point, Judy and I were singing Christmas carols with Lori Pellicer, whose voice was like silver windchimes. She was married to Judy's brother, and a conflict loomed: Jonny and Lori were the principals of a venerated local performance group oriented to country and bluegrass music, The Red River Band. The pull of that slice of family performance won out. And Tracy moved away. Another alto we loved to sing with Theresa, also relocated with her family, And so it was just me and Judy, and we let it sit for some quiet years, made noisy by other things. We worked at our day jobs. We raised kids.

My job took me into contact with Lis. (Are you kidding? It's her? But I've always loved her!) I kept all my starstruck hysteria under wraps as long as I could but eventually the day came and we talked about it, and Lis actually wanted to sing Christmas carols and hymns and would be THRILLED to sing with Judy and me (neither of whom she could possibly have known at all) and somehow we were all sitting around the table at Lis's house in St. Augustine, talking about music, listening to music, trying out harmonies, putting voice to voice as though we were fabrics needing matching...and there was no looking back.

Some dear friends opened the door to the Cafe Acalzar, a delightful restaurant to which we were all connected in one way or another. The Alcazar is that small, delectable bistro in the deep end of the pool and thanks to physics and the tastes of the Flaglers and Rockefellers, it creates an astonishing environment for live music. This was what we wanted to take into the MadriGalz CD. And our dear Buttercups of "you don't have to pay me right this minute but those clams gonna sure come in handy" (Lon, Rocky, Rick - you guys know who you are, and how much we still owe you) helped us make this recording into a reality. Let us be the first to say that the recording is full of live-performance flaws and sloppiness we could have polished out. If you listen closely, you'll hear them. But while we sometimes did more than one take, there is no correction of pitch, no pretence: if you'd been with us at Gatorbone Studios at that magic recording session, you'd hear the same thing on the CD that you'd have heard with headphones on, listening. You'd hear three singers who trust each other enormously, working to match for pitch and blend. You'd hear one recording engineer and producer (Lon Williamson) resisting any temptation to guide the MadriGalz into a sound not true to themselves. The only thing you'll miss if you listen to this CD is constant giggling (I know; it's shocking) and the profound gratitude the artists have for the people who made it possible.

So it's early for the holidays, as we all say every year at about this time. But maybe this year you'll be listening to this recording, and maybe it will help brighten the flame of the joy with which you honor the Miracle of Light, Christmas, or the return of the sun to bless our crops. Or maybe you'll be with us at a performance: you can call Creekside Dinery for a reservation, since we know we'll be singing there in December. Maybe you'll be singing with us at a house party or concert thi year. Most of all, we hope you'll be celebrating your old and cherished connections to one another during the coming holiday season, as the MadriGalz do every year.


  1. Good morning Mz Ang. Such a treat to read this story. Thanks for honoring us all with it and with your love. Our season is upon us and I look so forward to those first notes that make us misty to be singing together again. Love you, Lis xo

  2. Dear Lis, thank you for your kind comment. I just re-read the post and realized that in the pursuit of clinical historical re-creation, I left out SO MANY PEOPLE who helped the Madz on their merry, madz-y way. I have to think about how to fix this, but meanwhile, I have the misties just thinking about singing with you and She Who Must Be Obeyed again very soon! (Isn't that hilarious? Jude, are you reading this and laughing??) Love you,

  3. The ONLY reason I look forward to the winter holiday season is to listen to you angels sing.


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