A Spotlight on St Andrews Madrigal Group
Let's set the record straight…it is pronounced ‘Madrigal’ as in ‘Magical’, a very apt pronunciation one might argue.
Founded in 1946, St Andrews Madrigal Group holds the title as ‘the university’s oldest acapella group’ and continues to ‘falala’ 76 years later. The choir may go unnoticed to many of us here in St Andrews but after hearing the angelic voices that arise from its weekly rehearsals in St Leonard’s Chapel, one should be propelled to take a greater interest in the 17 strong troupe, who beam with camaraderie. After releasing an album in May this year named ‘Come Sable Night’ and following a summer tour, the group does not rest easy but instead welcomes its newest members and looks onward to further concerts within the calendar.
Fresh from weekly rehearsal, I sat down with the 22/23 Vice President Emily Kemp, who is a soprano in the group to discuss the goings on within the choir and events that which the Student body can look forward to.
Starting our conversation off, I sought to ask the question you reader may ask yourself: What is a Madrigal? Emily smiles, explaining: “a Madrigal is a secular (not connected to religion) vocal piece from the Renaissance or Baroque period, often including a lot of falala-ing!”. The unique choir was founded in 1946 by Evelyn Webb and with a weight of 76 years, I asked Emily if she and the group ever feel the pressure of carrying on both the legacy and standard set by Webb. Kemp confidently states: “No! Every year the group changes and adapts to the new fantastic members and we have no doubt we will have another year of fantastic music-making and so forth.” She continues: “Under the direction of our musical director Will Thorne, we are certain that we are in for a great year musically and socially.”
MadGroup holds an evident tight-knit status, which I do not doubt, is highly instrumental in creating the choir’s divine sound. I ask Emily why this was the case, she replies: “For us, singing and music making isn't just about learning the notes, it is about creating harmony within the group’s social dynamic alongside creating harmony within the group’s musical ensemble. To us they are of equal importance. I’ve met some of my closest friends via MadGroup. The group welcomed me with open arms and we endeavour to do the same for all members present, past and future.”
Distinguishing your musical group is not an easy feat within St Andrews, especially since our town is host to many successful groups. Emily, however, believes that it is the close community aspect of the choir that helps it stand out from the rest, adding: “We start the year off as a group of musicians and end the year as great friends.”
Madrigals are undoubtedly unique pieces of music, which to you reader may be treated in the same respect as Marmite, though I personally find Madrigals to be entirely endearing. However, Emily ensures me that MadGroup’s repertoire is not limited to just Madrigals as one might think. “The group prides itself in seeking diverse music and we cover a wide range of music across lots of different genres. Aswell as Madrigals we love to sing sacred and secular repertoire and folk-song. Madrigals are not pretentious pieces, they often prove to be rather tongue in cheek and contain hidden messages!” she exclaims. Kemp confirms this to me by playing a Madrigal selected from the group’s upcoming concert entitled ‘Choral Mosaic’.
After reading my conversation with Kemp, you may ask yourself: “Why should I attend a MadGroup concert?” In an energetic tone, Emily sells the upcoming concert to the unconvinced reader, highlighting that you “will be guaranteed an evening of beautiful music in the tranquil surroundings of St Salvator's Chapel, whilst being exposed to some of the most stunning choral writing through time - from 16th century Madrigalist John Bennett to the 21st century composer Eric Whitacre.”
As our conversation draws to an end, with an eager interest I ask Kemp what is next for MadGroup. She (still willing to answer my endless questions I might add) notes: “Apart from our upcoming concert being held on the 27th October in St Salvator's Chapel, we look forward to our annual Christmas concert and then onward to our international winter tour.” It sure is going to be a busy semester for the choir l will say!
As we gradually make our way through this first semester, it is a comfort to know that we can be soothed by the beautiful sound (and not forgetting the unmistakable ‘falala-ing’!) that arises from this group.
Illustration: Olivia Little