Madrigal choir returns to BHS


Members of the Burroughs Madrigals choir practice after school.

Burroughs has recently welcomed a new afterschool program on campus: Madrigals, a choir of advanced singers. But to many veterans on campus, the Madrigals aren’t a new group but a revived tradition that started long, long ago.
Like a phoenix risen from its ashes, promise and potential best describes this reawakening of a well-beloved group of talent. Madrigals had been running long before 1969, but this is when previous Madrigals teacher Russell Parker stepped into the role of conductor, creating three choirs, one of them called “Madrigals.”
“Madrigals are a very old form of music composition, usually used at dinner in the time of the Renaissance for the entertainment of attendees,” explained Parker. “Music Directors have brought them far forward and used them as another form of musical presentation for choristers in contemporary times.”
Although Madrigals have a long-running history around the world, nowadays, the majority of people in America have lost the ability to read music, which is a reason why Parker feels so passionately about cultivating music skills in students.
During Parker’s tenure, the school had a Beginning Chorus where kids could learn to sing and perform, Mixed Chorus for students with more experience, a more advanced Concert Choir, and finally, the most select group, the audition-based Madrigals.
“I recall at least one December where we did 32 performances between the beginning of December up until Winter break. We were busy. Maybe too busy,” said Parker.
The vocal music program has shrunk since its multi-class heyday, but now that may be changing.
Current Madrigals Director Amber Petersen grew up singing in the Burroughs Madrigals under the instruction of Parker.
“I have such fond memories of singing in the Madrigals ensemble under the direction of Mr. Parker when I was in high school,” said Petersen. These memories of a great group led Petersen to reignite the flame of Madrigals and carry it on, most likely for the next generations of musicians to come.
“Singing in a large choir is a rewarding experience, for certain, but there is something so rewarding and intimate to be singing with just one or two people per part,” said Petersen.
“The required musicianship and technique is a challenge and can also be so rewarding. I also wanted to offer the ability for a select vocal ensemble to work on more challenging repertoire than is accessible to the larger choir group. I am hopeful that by extending this opportunity, more students will have the chance to engage in meaningful music making and building lasting friendships.”
For the time being, as the group began in the middle of the school year, it exists as an after-school club. But this will soon change.
“We are working to make the elite Madrigal singers a class for next year!” said Petersen. “I am hopeful that more students currently in Concert Choir will consider auditioning for the fall. Students already enrolled in Symphonic Band or Orchestra are also invited to audition.”
Students are enjoying the opportunity.
“It has only been a few weeks since we began our after-school Tuesday meetings but we have already progressed so much not only musically but also cooperatively,” said senior Elaine Stewart. “It’s very different from singing in a large group; with smaller numbers, we can truly get intimate with the music and our singing peers.”
“I think it’s very cool to see and hear voices that you might not hear in a typical choir group setting, as Madrigals extends welcome to musicians outside of choir as well. A lot of times, choir classes are filled with students taking it for a year of credit. It is an inclusionary group that welcomes band and orchestra musicians, students who normally do not have the chance to sing even if they wish to. The existence of Madrigals shows the dedication that some students have to offer towards the musical arts.”
A phoenix burns brighter the second time it is born. Perhaps this holds promise for this legacy of Parker’s teachings.
“Amber is wonderfully qualified to direct this group,” said Parker. “She’s very capable both in choral work and string work. She was always a strong singer in my groups. I just hope they don’t work her to death. She’s very knowledgeable and if the kids will follow, she will lead them well.”