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The magical Madrigal Dinner

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By Brian Hurlbut Arts Council of Big Sky

There’s a special feeling in the air during the first week of December in Big Sky, when the air is crisp with winter’s bite and the snow starts to pile up around town. You can feel the tangible tingle of the forthcoming holiday season in your bones.

For me, this time of year is a mixture of nostalgia and excitement. As I get older, I think back to the hectic holiday times spent with family members – some of them long gone – and savor the memories. And now that I’m a father of two young children, I look forward to seeing their priceless expressions on Christmas morning.

The Madrigal Dinner captures all these holiday season feelings and wraps them up into a beautiful package of delicious food, great friends and amazing music, making it a tradition I look forward to every year.

It’s hard to believe, but this year marks the 17th time the Madrigal Dinner will be performed in Big Sky. Produced by the Montana State University School of Music, the event itself has been running for 48 years in Bozeman. In Big Sky, it’s held at Buck’s T-4, and sponsored by the Arts Council of Big Sky. With 175 attendees, the event sells out every year.

At Buck’s, patrons gather at about 5 p.m., entering the bar area to enjoy a glass of wine and conversation. After an hour, everyone is ushered into the Montana Room, where the lighting sets the mood and a brass quintet plays softly in the corner. The tables are exquisitely decorated with linens, candles and pine boughs. Once everyone is seated, the evening begins.

Transporting guests to a Renaissance feast, the event interprets the historical celebration of the Christmas season. Members of the MSU choral groups dress up like knaves and wenches, complete with a Lord, Lady and members of the Royal Court. Madrigal dinner traditions performed throughout the evening include the ceremonial procession, the wassail bowl and holiday toast, the boar’s head procession and the flaming pudding dessert.

The musical program differs each year, but at every Madrigal Dinner singers serenade the tables, and the evening always ends with the entire hall singing familiar carols.

Kirk Aamot, Director of Choral Activities and an Associate Professor of Music at MSU, conducts the Chorale. The ensemble tours regularly around Montana, and every three years it travels internationally to countries including the Czech Republic, Germany, Austria, Hungary, France, Spain, Switzerland and Italy.

Since the event is held at Buck’s, the food is anything but medieval, and every year chef Chuck Schommer and his staff serve up something delicious. This year, the three-course meal includes a beet salad, pesto roasted chicken breast, and a baked plum spice cake for dessert. The restaurant also has featured wines available by the bottle, hand picked to complement the dinner.

Each time I attend the Madrigal, I’m amazed by the entire event. I love talking with people I’ve not met before, being part of the jovial, celebratory mood, and listening to the talented young singers. At the night’s end, when the lights come on and everyone is ready to go home, you can tell there is magic in the air.

If you live in Big Sky and haven’t been to the Madrigal Dinner, you’re missing an event that truly captures the holiday spirit. I’ll even go so far to say it gives me the warm fuzzies, which is good because a long, cold winter looms ahead, and I might not feel that warmth again until June.

This year’s Madrigal Dinner takes place on Thursday, Dec. 5, at Buck’s T-4. Tickets can be reserved in advance only by calling the Arts Council of Big Sky at (406) 995-2742.

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