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Covenant Presents Madrigal Dinners, Dec. 5-6

The music department of Covenant College will present its annual Madrigal Dinners on Friday, December 5, and Saturday, December 6, 2008, with dinner beginning at 6:30 p.m. in the Great Hall on Covenant's Lookout Mountain, Georgia, campus.

An event begun in 1969 by Dr. John Hamm, the Madrigal Dinners at Covenant College have become a community tradition. They attract hundreds of guests from the local community, and parents of students travel from their home states to attend this celebrated event. It is a Chattanooga tradition that has a history of selling out in a matter of days.

UPDATE: Reservations for the Madrigal Dinners are now closed.

The Madrigal Dinner Tradition

The madrigal dinner was a 16th century pre-Christmas celebration and feast given by the wealthy for their court and friends. Castle dining halls were transformed with the reds and greens of Christmas. Feasts were prepared and entertainment provided throughout the meal. Guests dined, enjoyed music, danced and "made merry" until the hosts declared it an evening. This historical court feast was hosted by a lord and lady who presented a lavish evening for friends to begin the Christmas season celebration.

Some colleges still follow the historical aspects quite closely, such as dining without utensils - a tradition in the original madrigal dinner. Covenant provides eating utensils but remains close to the spirit of the feast, presenting the Christmas story in music and readings. Covenant's historical Great Hall is transformed into a castle-like atmosphere with hundreds of feet of garland decorated with fruit, herbs, ribbons, wreaths, and flowers. Nearly 1,000 candles are burned through the two-evening event, and the lavish costumes add an exquisite touch to the beauty of the evening.

The lord and lady preside over the feast and announce each course with a regal brass fanfare, giving instructions to all to begin and enjoy. Courses include soup served in bread bowls, salads, pork, chicken, roasted vegetables, plum pudding, fruits, cheeses, wassail and all the trimmings of a 16th century feast. For nearly three hours, guests eat a meal prepared by guest chefs, and served by servants attired in authentic peasant costumes. These peasants dance and lavish each guest with attention throughout the evening.

The Madrigal Singers are a highly skilled group of 16-18 singers, who are dressed in authentic Renaissance costumes and who sing English carols, madrigals and traditional Christmas music. Throughout the evening, the costumed Renaissance Consort of 7-8 players play the harp, flute, viola da gamba, recorders and a harpsichord. This harpsichord was built for Covenant's music department in 2005 in celebration of this event and Covenant College's 50th anniversary. Participating faculty include Ms. Robyn Wilkes and Mr. Jim Bailiff. The event is the product of over one hundred musicians, faculty and support staff who work to make each evening a success.

Throughout the evening, a juggler and other characters move throughout the crowd, entertaining each table in the tradition of Renaissance court life. The lord and lady of this year's Madrigal Dinner will be the president and first lady of Covenant College, Drs. Niel and Kathleen Nielson.

The beauty of the Madrigal Dinner is its presentation of the story of the birth of Christ in a setting that takes us back to times past. It is an evening of superb dining, fellowship with friends new and old, Christmas decor and scents, a costumed cast and exquisite music-a true celebration of Christmas.