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SCC Methodists sing, stroll through mad, mad madrigal

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All eyes were not on Page Mary Bushong as she endeavored mightily to lead the court through one of its numbers for the UMC December madrigal. The guests, however, did not miss a word as the cast kibbitzed its way through the labor of the royal princess and arrival of the royal infant. An estimated 130 guests joined the twittering court each of three evenings to enjoy a royal entre of Porke Fortier prepared by Chefs Jeff Cofer and Amanda Jordan. About 50 members of the UMC congregation helped behind the scenes.
Melody Jameson photo

By MELODY JAMESON

Sit-down holiday supper for 130 guests, give or take…in four courses, no less…not just once, but on three consecutive occasions…with the entertainment romping through the castle dining room yet…

And you think you’re in for a hectic family celebration?

But, then, you probably don’t have 50 or 60 pairs of helping hands at the ready. In fact, that’s the only way this community’s United Methodist Church could pull off its mad, mad Renaissance Madrigal each season, says Jeff Jordan, its multi-faceted director who describes himself as UMC’s Minister of Worship Arts. The 2010 production earlier this month was no exception.

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As the royal family enjoyed the royal feast,surrounded by ladies and lords of United Methodist’s mythical 16th century court, the royal princess tried her best to call attention to her advanced and painful state of pregnancy. Here, Katy Style as Princess Christina (left) gestures pointedly as (left to right) King Bill Turcotte, Queen Jene Evans and David Style as Prince Claudius, along with the rest of the court, generally ignore her distress. Not to fear, though, before the SCC congregation’s annual madrigal was ended, the royal infant had arrived, with mother and baby doing just fine.
Staged on December 2, 3 and 4 in UMC’s Creason Hall-turned-vast-and-dimly-lighted-castle-dining room, the mythical 16th century English Court of chattering, chirping, barely controlled lords and ladies this year awaited arrival of the royal infant, first born of Prince Claudius and Princess Christina. As the princess squirmed and yowled from time to time at the head banquet table to the puzzled consternation of her prince and under the watchful eyes of the king and queen, a royal midwife hovered.

Meanwhile, the court, clad in the elaborately styled, richly colored silks, satins and velvets of the day, made non-stop use of the opportunity to snipe good-naturedly at one another in perfectly eloquent and elegantly phrased English – that is, when some of its ladies were not bursting spontaneously into song and some of its lords were not wandering among the one hundred-plus guests seated in the dining hall, offering bites from large roasted turkey drumsticks.

The guests, however, generally were too busy consuming their own tasty meals to pause for any slabs of turkey. After joining with the court in asking a blessing upon the royal feast, their menu this year opened with a cup of Wassail hailed by one and all, and continued with English Onion Soup, Porke Forstier, along with Black Forest Stuffing accompanied by Green Beans and a Tomato Crown. The monarch’s servers then offered Royal Baby Bites, probably early royal versions of today‘s sweet petit fours, served with coffee.

The meal seemed to encourage the royal princess who, close to swooning, soon was conducted to the castle’s royal birthing center by the royal midwife who promptly returned to introduce the newly-arrived royal infant, much to the satisfaction of court and guests alike. Moments later, a rapidly recovering princess was able to present the princely sire with his first son, as a beaming pair of grandparent royals proudly surveyed their expanding kingdom.

IMG_1534While the costuming, lighting, scripting, meal planning and volunteer assignments would appear to be months in the making, Jordan says the congregation pulls together and gets the entire madrigal production on track in only a couple of weeks. Players in this year’s madrigal numbered about 25 and another 50 or so handled the behind-the-scenes work each evening – as royal singers, instrumentalists, costumers, set builders, chefs, servers, kitchen and clean-up crews.

Several factors help bring the production together in a shorten timeframe, notes Jordan, who has staged and directed several such programs over the years. Among these are the facts that little blocking is needed for the actors and that spontaneous performance can be encouraged within the guidelines established by the script. Royal Entertainers Shirley Bengston and Shirley Walker, for instance, simply play off each other, ad libbing hilariously on the madrigal’s central theme. Then, too, he adds, “we have lots of talented folks.”

Jordan’s affinity for the madrigal performance format goes back at least 10 years, after he had earned a Master’s Degree in Music Theory from the University of Texas and had begun teaching in junior college systems. Under such circumstances, he explains, the instructor simply works with whatever talent is available, whether singing, playing instruments or acting. The adaptable madrigal form is suited to these conditions. And, when Jordan, along with wife, Amanda, and their children, became more involved with their church’s activities, he recognized the madrigal would be a natural in that setting, too.

Jeff-Jordan
Joe Reilly photo, courtesy of Jeff Jordan
Jeff Jordan, minister of worship arts at Sun City Center’s United Methodist Church has written three madrigals to date, each performed by members of the congregation, and hints that a fourth may be taking shape shortly. He also is, a Master’s graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, is a conductor currently helping the SCC Symphony develop, is a musician in his own right playing both piano and guitar, is a production director, a lover of Brahms and Bach, as well as husband to Amanda and father to Julia, Isabelle and Weston.

The Jordans came to Sun City Center’s UMC nearly three years ago, settled into a Cypress Creek Villages neighborhood and, to date, he has scripted three madrigals involving the imagined English court, particularly suited to a progressive Methodist congregation because Methodism is rooted in English history.

The first madrigal revolved around Prince Claudius’ “shocking” courtship of Christina, a commoner of all things, after throwing over the much-favored princess-in-waiting, Catherine, Jordan recalls. The second production centered on plans for the royal wedding of Claudius and Christina, along with a re-appearance of the jilted Catherine, which gave the court’s lords and ladies plenty about which to twit and twitter and retreat into song.

As for the next madrigal’s storyline, Jordan says he’s not given it much thought yet. “I’m getting ready for Easter, now,” the director, pianist and guitarist asserts. Then, there’s the new and gradually growing Sun City Center Symphony, which Jordan helped organize earlier this year. Conducting, he acknowledges, is among his most favored activities, the challenge of it on par with the pleasures of Brahms and Bach.

In between these interests, Jordan says he’ll welcome all suggestions for the next set of obstacles to confront the Renaissance Royals as they deal in life-altering events with song and sarcasm.

Copyright 2010 Melody Jameson

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Finally, as the royals, their court and more than a hundred guests completed their feast fit for a monarch on each of three evenings that the UMC madrigal was presented, Princess Christina (above) was able to present the royal newborn to his sire, Prince Claudius, after making a recovery in mere minutes. In previous madrigals, scripted by director Jeff Jordan, the prince courted the would-be princess, a commoner, and then planned their royal wedding, much to the sarcastic delight of the chattering lords and ladies.

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