The Haddonfield Memorial High School Madrigal Singers welcome all to enjoy the music and merriment of the season at their annual Dessert Theater each year. Since the troupe’s inaugural season in 1997, the Madrigals have performed at the White House, Washington National Cathedral, the Kimmel Center and Longwood Gardens.
But things will look a bit different due to the ongoing pandemic.
The troupe, 26 members strong and featuring students from all four grades, will once again perform at the Royal Court. What had traditionally been a genteel, indoor and live historical experience will be reborn as a drive-in movie, at the Wedgewood Swim Club parking lot, for two shows in early January.
Think 1450s intro, with 1650s music, in a 1950s setting.
“I wanted to give the kids something special. I had to find a way to get a ‘yes’ rather than a ‘no.’ Instead of a YouTube thing, I wanted to have a real event,” said high school Choir Director Tyler Mills to the Sun on Dec. 21.
“We looked into actual drive-ins, but Haddonfield doesn’t have any close. I wanted to keep it local and Wedgewood offered to help. Keeping it local tries to ensure more residents can be attracted to the event.”
A drama club veteran, senior Katrina Edwards plays the court jester. Her job for the production is to provide an introduction and keep things moving, but to do so with a light touch.
“It’s a storyteller and a narrator. My job is to be silly and set the stage for the whole night,” she explained. “I give a cold open monologue, where I take the audience back to 1472. It’s a bummer we can’t do it in person.”
The show will be presented on film for the four-wheeled audience and will feature the usual songs and dances of the season, comedic stylings, a wassail toast and the regal presentation of the boar’s head. As an extra enticement, prepackaged desserts will be provided to enjoy from the comfort and privacy of whichever mode of transport attendees choose.
Under Mills’ direction, student singers appear in Renaissance-inspired costumes as they present madrigal songs, a type of vocal music that originated in France and England. The process of putting together a show that’s clearly not live, under the present circumstances, could only be called a labor of love.
“When I first started this back in September, I was trying to see if we could even sing together,” Mills admitted. “We landed on being outdoors, singing with masks, facing each other with 6 to 13 feet of distance. From a directing music standpoint, everything was futile. You could barely hear each other out in the open and masked.”
That led to an online, individual regrouping that, according to Mills, didn’t go too well, either. He found that in the process of trying to pay proper attention to both video and audio, the kids tended to favor one side or the other.
Mills referred to the “smoke and mirrors” process toward the finished product: His students first recorded the music on their own at home, and Mills worked on a conductor’s track, which he sent back to each member, so they could match their singing to the conducting. He then received 26 separate tracks, and from those entries, tried to piece everything together and make it look seamless.
“I don’t autotune the kids,” Mills offered.
After receiving a final mix, members will don their respective costumes, steady their cameras, and make full-throated efforts on their parts of a particular song.
“I want the audio to reflect that this is a choir,” Mills said. “We’ve been doing three to four times more work in each song with the tech involved. Because they’re perfectionists and have good ears, I ask them to run through a song a max of three times because we can’t take up too much time.”
Without giving too much away, the audience will be treated to one traditional song that gets a nontraditional arrangement, the instrumental “Dance of the Sugar-Plum Fairy,” with an a capella vocal treatment.
Some Madrigals face a unique choice, now that the immediacy of live performance will be replaced by witnessing the playback: to see or not to see the final product.
“Live theater, when it happens it happens,” Edwards said. “As a perfectionist, it’s difficult to go back and watch myself. I’m really excited to show my family and see my mom’s reaction to what I did.”
The Madrigals will host two performances, both on Jan. 9, at 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. Each performance can accommodate up to 34 vehicles. Tickets are $25 per vehicle for each show. Additional donations are encouraged and appreciated to benefit scholarships for graduating participants. To purchase tickets visit: http://madrigal2020.eventbrite.com. For all other inquiries, contact: Madrigaltix@gmail.com.