20th anniversary Madrigals performance goes remote

Jeff Christopherson

COVID-19 forced this year’s Madrigal singers to perform their 20th-anniversary concert without an audience, recording an emergency performance on Nov. 17 in preparation for Unit 5’s return to remote learning.

Madrigals director Mr. Ben Luginbuhl, then in his fourth year teaching, and the court singers gave their first dinner and dessert performances at St. John’s Lutheran Church in Bloomington in December of 2001.

In the last two decades, the Madrigals singers have grown from an after-school club to part of the NCHS choir curriculum.

The Madrigals concerts, modeled after English Renaissance feasts, have grown too — in popularity and spectacle. The shows, typically held the first two weekends in December, have continually sold out despite doubling the number of performances they initially put on. The catered meal, fittingly from Times Past Inn; the elaborate castle’s court set, and the detailed costumes have all grown more intricate over the years.

A single dress, Luginbuhl said, can cost upwards of $300 to make.

Luginbuhl hoped to honor the group’s milestone with a special performance. But when planning for this year’s annual medieval-themed Christmas concert began in August, Luginbuhl said, it wasn’t clear what form the concert would take.

“When we found out that we were fully remote, I knew that we weren’t going to be able to have a dinner,” Luginbuhl said.

Despite COVID-19, Luginbuhl knew he “had to do something” for the anniversary performance.

The show is “a really big deal if you’re a choir kid,” according to Luginbuhl. Some of the performers have been waiting three years to get into the audition-only ensemble.

After the chamber choir “lost a musical last spring, which was really horrible and hard to deal with,” Luginbuhl wouldn’t consider skipping the annual concert.

Days before recording the emergency backup performance, Luginbuhl hoped, “If we’re lucky, we’ll get to go to Wesleyan to a chapel that has really great acoustics.”

Knowing the likelihood of that happening, with the “state clamping down,” Luginbuhl recruited Mr. Jeff Christopherson to record a five-song, costume-less performance in the NCHS multi-purpose room.

Luginbuhl’s original plan, he said, was to work with the Advanced Digital Media class on the recording. However, the updated COVID guidelines forced the choir director to find a new location and means of performing.

The ensemble’s 22-minute video, featuring the socially-distanced members wearing red and green instead of the usual renaissance costumes, was posted on the NCHS Choirs social media accounts on Dec. 16.

Despite COVID preventing the singers from performing in front of a live audience, the group members were satisfied with the opportunity to perform in any format.

“I think it’s much better than just canceling it,” Megan Metz, sophomore court singer, said.

Sophomore chamber singer Leslie Burton’s just wanted to be able to sing, she said, “whether it’s in class every day or if it’s after school at a club with masks on.”

Luginbuhl still hopes to have the Madrigals perform in costume this year, “even if we have to wait until March,” he said.