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FHS Madrigal Singers go ‘whole hog’

Persistence paid off for senior Ryan Emory, one of 27 Farragut High School Madrigal Singers who perform each holiday season from just after Thanksgiving through mid-December.

“I’ve tried out all four years, and this is the first year I made it,” Emory said of past auditions, making it as a kingdom lord with a trumpet-playing role in this year’s Madrigal skit. That skit, created by the students, was performed prior to a 30-minute concert as part of the 2006 Dinner Programme at St. Elizabeth Episcopal church Thursday, Nov. 30.

“I love singing and always dreamed of being in an ensemble.”

As for his struggles to make the cut, “Each year it was something different, [for example] I wasn’t blending — but then I learned to control that,” Emory said.

However, “I was surprised when I made it. It’s very rewarding. I was very happy when I found out.”

Ginny Herrick, Choral director at FHS who oversees the Madrigals, referred to the Nov. 30 performance as a “dress rehearsal pot luck dinner” in front of “an audience that knows us and loves us.

“Last night went really well, it was the quality of a regular performance,” she later added. “Usually our first performance is the first Wednesday before Thanksgiving, we are always at Fantasy of Trees, and we go through whenever our exam week is, we stop at the beginning of our exam week.”

Herrick said the singers’ final performance is Dec. 14 — first at Borders bookstore followed at 6:30 p.m. at Weston Place Assisted Living. Other performances include a Dinner Programme at The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (7 p.m., Friday, Dec. 8); a performance at East Tennessee Children’s Hospital (3-7:30 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 12) and a Dinner Programme at Concord United Methodist Church (6 p.m., Wednesday, Dec. 13).

Herrick said the Madrigals perform “ten to fifteen” skits and/or concerts per season in the six years she’s been in charge.

With dinner programmes, “We do four or five of those in the community, usually churches want to have entertainment for one of their dinners during the holidays,” Herrick said. “Our concerts are usually about thirty minutes worth of music, kind of hosted and emceed by our jester [senior Joe LeSage] and jestett [senior Ashley Sizemore].”

Madrigal, or musical form, reflects “Medieval times or Renaissance times,” Herrick said. “Not all of our music is in the Madrigal style, specifically, we do a wide variety of music. A lot of it is unaccompanied.

“The kids are dressed in Old English attire — they do their own costumes,” Herrick added. “They provide it, they either have someone make the costumes for them. I’ve had a child before that has made her own costumes, but most of ’em their mom will make ’em or they have to find a seamstress.”

Each year’s skit, similar to most skits performed by the Madrigals, is hatched from the signers’ own imagination, Herrick said, adding, “They do borrow from plays. The King [Blake Venable] and Queen [Kim Carlson] are part of every skit/concert along with the jester and jestette.

“Usually I ask for volunteers that are interested in writing the script and they will get together and come up with a draft.”

As for this year’s script, “Umang Shukla, Joe LeSage, Ashley Sizemore and Mariel Westervelt” probably put the most time into it,” Herrick said.

LeSage said, “It’s nice to be able to perform something you wrote.”

Herrick said, “Sometimes I have groups that are really creative in that way, and sometimes groups that are not as creative,” adding this year’s skit “was very creative, and it also has a useful bent to it.”

With songs mingled in, the skit’s theme “Was the prince, the baby, the infant prince, who was abducted by two fire-breathing dragons while the jester was babysitting,” Herrick said. “And they have to come up with a plan to rescue the baby and bring him back so that the heir to the throne is safe and the future of the kingdom is secured.

“Actually, they wanted to pattern it a little bit after American Idol,” Herrick added. “The jester hatches a plan … that good signing will put the dragon to sleep so they can rescue the baby,” she added. “So we have several singers audition to save the baby to the King and Queen, so that they can select somebody so they can go and try to sing these dragons to sleep.

“I can give them scripts that are ready-made, but honestly, I haven’t had to purchase a script since I’ve been teaching here, six years. For them, I think it is very beneficial to create the plays on their own, and be able to take it to different venues and make adjustments and work with each other, to perform it in different settings.”

Though Herrick said she leads rehearsals and offers advice, when it comes to going on stage at the different venues, “I don’t conduct them for Madrigals, so they have to work toward listening to each other and depending on each other for starting and stopping and keeping a tempo, that kind of thing. So it is a process that matures them as musicians.”

Sizemore said she’s a Madrigal “because I love it, I’ve been doing it since sophomore year, and I’ve been signing, like, my whole life.”

Sizemore said she hopes to “have a recording studio and be a producer someday,” honing the tools for that goal at The University of Tennessee as a production major — with a minor in business.

Based on reactions to his performances, LeSage said he’s a good fit as Court Jester. “Apparently I’m a funny guy,” said LeSage, in his second year as a Madrigal and first as jester. “It just seemed like something fun to do. I like getting up in front of people and goofing off. ... I really like signing and acting, and it’s a good way to release the energy that I have.”

LeSage said he’s also a member of FHS’s “Company Improv Team.”

A 1996 FHS graduate and former Madrigal singer herself, Herrick said the FHS Madrigal Signers date back to “the late seventies” and, as one of the first high school Madrigal productions in Knox County, were started by Carey Crowe. Among Knox County high school Madrigal singing groups, “I think we probably have one of the longest traditions,” Herrick said.

After earning a Bachelor of Music degree in education from Furman University, Greenville, S.C., “I was fortunate enough to be asked to come back and teach here,” Herrick said. “I’ve wanted to teach for a long time, and I’m really privileged to able to be here to do it, and continue this legacy that Mister Crowe


Though senior Jane Sellers said her profession of choice won’t likely be music-related, “I have to have music in my life, music’s always been a very big part of my life, ever since I was very little, and I think that it’s really important,” said Sellers, a lady of the court in her second year as a Madrigal. “I think everyone should have something outside school work in the arts, be it acting or singing or playing an instrument, or anything. But it needs to be something.

“I have an aptitude for this,” Sellers added. “I can play piano, flute, other instruments, but I choose to sing, I just have a natural aptitude for it.”

Senior Tyler Bates, a lord of the court, said he joined Madrigals “hopefully to get into a good group of people that could sing as well as I could. I enjoy entertaining people. Throughout my middle school and high school years, I’ve always been in a music band. I’ve also enjoyed singing choir at church since about the sixth-grade, and it was one of my most enjoyable things to do. I wanted to pursue it further.”

In college, Bates said he plans to pursue a music business/recording industry major at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro. He will minor in composition.

Emory said, “In college I’m hopefully going to join an ensemble there. Or if not, do something in professional music.”


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