The Mountain Madrigal Singers perform 34th annual holiday concerts
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Who: The Mountain Madrigal Singers
What: “Christmas Peace” holiday concerts
When: 2 p.m. on Sunday (seniors will be seated first), 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 13, 14 and 19
Where: First United Methodist Church, 824 Cooper Ave., Glenwood Springs
How Much: Free (donations accepted)
When the Mountain Madrigal Singers started out, the all-volunteer group consisted of eight people singing traditional English madrigals. Now in their 34th year, the choir consists of 19 singers and a handful of instrumentalists performing a variety of Christmas and secular songs to mark the holiday season in the valley.
The Mountain Madrigal Singers’ annual holiday concerts take place at 2 p.m. on Sunday and 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 13, 14 and 19 at First United Methodist Church in Glenwood Springs. Seniors will be seated first at the Sunday matinee.
Cliff Keen, a chiropractor in Glenwood Springs who has been singing with the Madrigals for 16 years, said his experience with the group is so meaningful that he doesn’t even put up Christmas decorations until his concerts are over.
“I don’t plan on going anyplace during rehearsal, and I don’t have any big trips other than a day or two until the season is over,” Keen said.
Laura Portersfield has been the director of the Madrigals for 21 years, and she sang in the group three years before that.
“I joined the group to sing and not have any responsibility,” said Portersfield, who has a bachelors degree in music education, helps the schools in the valley with their music programs and directs a Christian choir called The Sounds of Praise. “We lost our director and couldn’t find anyone else, and I had directing skills, so I said I’d do it for one year. Twenty-one years later, here I am.
“I still wish I could sing,” she added with a laugh. “But it’s the best feeling in the world to be a part of a group like the Mountain Madrigal Singers. We’re spreading God’s word, we’re giving a gift to the community, and it starts off the Christmas season. I’m working with talented, talented people, so it’s wonderful.”
The singers really do give a gift to the community in that they are all volunteers, and their concerts are free. They do take donations at the door to help with their operating costs, which include music (one piece costs $200 to $250, and they have 15 every year), printing, advertising, occasionally purchasing instruments to add to their collection, props and recording. Portersfield said she thinks the community is grateful for the free concerts and therefore more willing to give donations.
“Before I became the director, we were always in the red,” Portersfield said. “And all we do is ask for donations at the door, and then there are people that mail us donations and things like that. The community supports us with their love, they let us hang up posters, they support us financially, and they come to our concerts. We don’t charge, the community knows that, and they all pitch in.”
While the singers are all volunteers, not just anyone is allowed to join the Madrigals. Auditions are held every summer, and talent alone is not all that’s considered. Auditionees are asked to sing with the current group to make sure their voices blend well to create one full sound.
“It’s not like we have 20 people and you hear 20 voices,” Keen said. “You’ve got 20 people, and you should hear four to six parts, or sometimes eight parts, or sometimes one when we’re in unison.”
Portersfield said singers already in the group do not need to re-audition unless they’re away for two years or more. This way, an average of one new singer joins the Madrigals each year. Working with largely the same group every season makes her job easier, and it makes the singers’ jobs easier because they already know how their voices blend together.
While having about 20 singers who know how to create one rich sound is important, both Keen and Portersfield said the acoustics and sound system in the church plays a large role in creating their beautiful concerts. The Madrigals have been singing at the same church for all 34 years because they’re allowed to use it for free and because the sound is unmatched.
“It’s got the best acoustics in town,” Keen said. “I’ve been to several of the other places in town, and sung in other places in town before, and I wouldn’t want to sing anyplace else. The other places just don’t have the sound. We’re about the sound and what we project, and you want to do that at the very best possible place you can be, and the church is it.”
In addition to acoustics, Portersfield said the ambience is important to the overall performance.
“It’s Christmas music in a sanctuary as opposed to Christmas music in the auditorium of a school or a community center or someplace like that,” she said. “You’re sitting in pews, and the lights are soft and sweet as opposed to glaring lights, which you might get somwhere else where you would perform.”
The church is also right in downtown Glenwood Springs, making it convenient for guests throughout the valley to get to. The Madrigals provide free babysitting upstairs in the church if children get too restless during the performance or if parents just want to have a night out together.
Portersfield said one of her favorite parts about being involved with the Madrigals is that it’s such a strong tradition.
“It’s not only a tradition for me, but it’s a tradition for all those 1,500 people that come every year,” she said.