WELLSBURG - It's been a busy year for the Brooke High School Madrigal Choir, which performed at the Vatican City in June and now is preparing for its annual Madrigal Feast while continuing to raise funds to pay off a loan for the trip.
The group is known for the Medieval-style costumes its members wear while performing music from various periods without musical accompaniment. Its vocal reputation earned it an invitation to perform at an afternoon Mass at St Peter's Basilica, a high Mass in Assisi and public concerts in Rome and Florence in June.
The feast combines musical performances and a humorous skit by the group with a Medieval-inspired dinner prepared by chef Rocco Basil with help from students in the ProStart food management class taught by Eva Ujcich at the school.
SPECIAL GUESTS — The Brooke High School Madrigal Choir performed for an afternoon Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica as well as other appearances in Italy this summer. The group now is preparing for its annual madrigal feast, an event that mixes music, comedy and food. - Contributed
This year's menu will include roast pork loin, stuffed chicken breast, several side entrees, a cheese tray and wassail.
Tickets are $20 each for the event, which will be held at 7 p.m. Dec. 6-8 at the school. Reservations should be made by calling (304) 527-1410, extension 3715.
This year a woodwind ensemble assembled by band director Erin Steffy will join the festivities.
"Including the preparations, there's usually about 50 to 60 students involved in the event," said Taylor.
He said guests expecting an entirely high-brow affair often are surprised by the humor of the skit and the food.
"One parent told me he was dreading coming but he had such a good time," Taylor recalled.
The feast is part of a busy holiday season for the choir, which performs at churches and for civic groups in December.
"They spend more time with me in December than they do with their families," Taylor joked.
This year the group will join choirs from West Liberty University and Tyler Consolidated High School for a Dec. 9 concert at Vance Memorial Presbyterian Church in Wheeling.
"It will be a couple hundred singers and an orchestra - pretty spectacular," said Taylor, who added his former WLU instructor, Al deJaager, approached him about participating.
The group also is continuing to raise funds for the trip to Italy. While the students and their parents raised about $70,000 for the trip, it fell short by about $45,759 in May, when it had already made a commitment to participate.
The Brooke County Board of Education lent the group the needed funds, and Taylor pledged the choir would repay it. He said about $12,000 is still owed.
He expressed appreciation to the board and others who helped to make the trip possible, adding the 10 adults who served as chaperones paid their own expenses.
"Local businesses and even individuals gave pretty significant donations ... ," he said.
Among the many businesses that lent a hand to the group's fundraising efforts was Allietta Ford of Wellsburg, which generated $6,000 through an endeavor in which the Ford Motor Co. donated $25 for each person who test-drove a vehicle from the dealership.
The fundraiser was part of Ford's Drive 4UR School Initiative, which has raised more than $12 million for schools since it was begun in 2007, said Allietta.
Alietta has offered to hold another event for the school in the future.
Taylor said the funds will be divided among costs for the trip, the madrigal feast and the school's spring musical.
He said the trip was a rare opportunity and an educational experience for the 23 students, which included members of the school art club advised by Sara Lanigan.
"I think they were impressed that Rome was an actual city and not just ruins," he said.
"You can be overwhelmed by all of the things to see and do," Taylor said.
The students said the experience is one they will remember for a long time.
"It was by far the most amazing experience in my life. I'm actually doing a paper on it for my Advanced Placement English class," said Gabby Bennett, a senior from Follansbee who is a member of the madrigal choir and art club.
Kassidy Reitter, a senior from Wellsburg said, "It was really incredible to see the work they (Romans and others) had done in the past. It's one thing to be told about the Colosseum and another to see it."
Bennett said performing at the Vatican City was quite moving for her.
"The concerts just made me cry. It was just so beautiful there," she said.
Brent Kimball, a senior from Follansbee, said he had a very unusual spiritual experience while there.
"Before the trip I had a slight case of Bell's palsy (a nerve disorder that causes partial paralysis to the face) and the only song I was able to sing was 'How Great Thou Art'. I prayed to God and left it in his hands. After the trip to Italy, I was completely healed."
Taylor said with the help of Ede Ashwork, Brooke's Latin teacher and a past visitor to Italy, the students learned some basic phrases in Italian.
Taylor noted the people of Italy are very friendly.
"As soon as you sit and talk to the Italians, you feel at home right away because they are so nice," he said.