Madrigal Dinner brings the past back to life

Haley Brase

An explosion of renaissance festivities erupts from a fanfare as the doors open to the Great Hall for the Madrigal Dinner at Iowa State on Jan.16-17. 

Celebrating its 50th year, the Madrigal Dinner starts at 5:30 p.m. both nights at the Iowa State Memorial Union Great Hall.

Four groups perform throughout the entire evening: Iowa State Singers , Music Men, Musica Antiqua and Orchesis II Dancers.

In order to create a lively three-and-a-half-hour event, it takes dedication, not only from the groups performing, but also from the people arranging the dinner. Randall Compton and James Rodde are the producers of the Madrigal Dinner and each have a history and a fulfilling duty to the dinner.

Compton started as a student in the ISU Chamber singers, which was the main choral group of the time, from 1975 until 2000. He is now a part of Music Men, but this is the Music Men’s last year performing.

“We sing renaissance madrigals with the dinner,” Compton said. “We sometimes sing with the group Music Antiqua, which is one of the groups that will be there. They perform on authentic recreations of instruments from the time.”

Compton is not the only one who has been involved since he was a student at Iowa State.

“Mike King has been doing set up since he was a student. He took it over and [has] been doing it by himself since about when I started in 1992 as the producer,” Compton said. King is now the technical advisor for the event.

In 2000, the Iowa State Singers became the main choral group, which is when Rodde became associated with the dinner because he is the director of the choir.

“Around 70 singers or so are divided into three groups [for the dinner],” Rodde said. “There are a variety of pieces that are well known that deal with love and playfulness.”

Once the town crier welcomes everyone to the dinner, a fanfare is blown, which leads to the start of the show. The Music Men, Iowa State Singers and Musica Antiqua rotate their performances before dinner is served.

“When the dinner is ready, the boar’s head is brought in and there’s a song for the boar’s head, and that’s a real boar’s head,” Compton said.

Once dinner is served, the musical groups serenade tables individually while the attendees’ mouths water from the food provided by the Memorial Union.

After dinner, the Iowa State Singers perform a play, which is their version of Sleeping Beauty, according to Rodde.

When the dessert is served, the groups begin serenading tables again and leads to a short intermission for people to use the restrooms.

Since it is the 50th anniversary of the Madrigal Dinner, the alumni of past dinners have been invited to come and perform Jan 17.

“On [Jan. 17], it’s a little different because we’re going to have the alumni perform too, so they are going to be one of the groups in the rotations, so we have sent music out to the people who are coming back,” Compton said. “We’re going to rehearse with them Saturday afternoon, so they’ll be a part of the dinner [Jan.17].”

After the intermission, there is an after-dinner show, which will involve all of the groups, plus the alumni who have returned.

The theme of Madrigal Dinners is renaissance. Not only are the performers dressed in renaissance attire, but the people who attend are welcome to dress in costumes as well.

The Orchesis II Dancers will choose who has the best costume. There is also a drawing and the winner receives a free ticket to next year’s Madrigal Dinner.

“Music Men rehearse all year long because we don’t just do this, that it is just one of the things we do,” Compton said. “Music Antiqua practice as need be. They’ve been doing it for so long they don’t really have to rehearse it like the rest of the groups [because] they know what they’re doing and show up pretty much ready to go.”

Since the Iowa State Singers receive new members each year because they are Iowa State students, they require practice.

“We have been working on music since October,” said Rodde. “I think they’re a special group, singing extremely well.”

The Madrigal Dinner is not only a dinner and a show, but a time to bring people together who have a passion for music.

Tickets are $47 for regular admission; $43 dollars for students, seniors and groups of ten or more; $42 for alumni association members. Tickets can be bought via or bought at the Memorial Union Ticket Office.