NORMAL - Bruce Kaiser has celebrated two 50th madrigal anniversaries even though he's only 83.
Kaiser, the founding artistic director of Illinois State University Madrigal Dinners, brought the idea from Indiana University, where he worked before moving to Normal.
He attended that university's 50th madrigal anniversary in 1997. "I have celebrated two 50th madrigal anniversaries, but I'm not 100 years old," Kaiser said.
The Illinois State University madrigal dinner is a recreation of the Renaissance feasts hosted by English barons during the 12 days of Christmas. It included pageantry and humor, music and large amounts of food.
"For me it was rewarding to work with hundreds of talented and enthusiastic students," Kaiser said.
About 100 people attended the first madrigal dinner at Illinois State Normal University only weeks after Dwight D. Eisenhower was re-elected president. Over the years, the annual attendance has grown to about 7,000.
On Saturday, sandwiched between afternoon and evening madrigal dinners in the Bone Student Center Circus Room, madrigal alumni celebrated the event's 50th anniversary at ISU.
All present and past madrigal singers in attendance joined together to sing "Twelve Days of Christmas," directed by former artistic director John Ferrell.
A few alumni had to run back to their seats to gather their glasses so they could see the music. One more recent graduate held an infant in her arms as she sang.
Jesters Kelly Synder and Kyle Bush humorously acted out the song. The impromptu choir blended and harmonized like they had always been together.
The current madrigal brass also performed.
The four artistic directors of madrigal dinners shared their memories.
Many alumni hugged friends they hadn't seen for a while.
"It's like family," said Laura Doherty, who was a madrigal singer at ISU from 1999 to 2003.
Many alumni have careers in music. Doherty now works as a music therapist for emotionally and behaviorally challenged students at schools in Schaumburg and North Aurora.
Old friends Jerry Bradley and Fred Wassell have only seen each other twice in 48 years, once at the 45th anniversary, and now at the 50th. Wassell was in Jerry and Pat Bradley's wedding party and greeted them with excitement.
Jerry Bradley, who sang in the first madigral, has retired from teaching high school music mostly at Edwardsville, and sang with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra.
"We made some 16th century jokes to pass the time," Jerry Bradley said, noting that costumes were borrowed the first year.
Ruth Kuntz knows all about the costumes. Kuntz, 90, remembers being asked to make the costumes in the early days. "I was very innocent," she said.
Kuntz found out she had to make 10 costumes (four for women, six for men) in three weeks. "I got a little help that first year," she said.
Just like Kuntz, James Roderick didn't really know what he was getting into at first. He was introduced to singers, was told, "You're in charge," and there were two weeks of rehearsals before his first madrigal.
Roderick remembers the number of madrigal dinners doubled and tripled for the first several years. He said nine trips to Europe with the performers and one to Fargo, N.D., were among his memories from 1956 to 1960. "I didn't know how lucky I was then," he said.
"You want to be part of something very good," said James Major, the current madrigal artistic director, adding that at Illinois State University, they are.
Some things have changed but colorful costumes, students singing a cappella, comical jesters and plentiful food continue. This year's menu included spicy wassail, salads of baby greens and hearts of romaine with toasted walnuts and raspberry vinaigrette dressing, madrigal bread with honey butter, roasted potatoes and warm figgie pudding with rum caramel sauce.
ISU's Madrigal Dinner makes its Chicago debut on Saturday at the Chicago Cultural Center. It will be broadcast during the 2006 Christmas season.
The 51st annual madrigal dinners start Nov. 29, 2006.
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