Madrigals goes to UMD

The Madrigals pose inside a University of Maryland staircase, relaxing ahead of their collaborative performance. “We were standing out in our Renaissance outfits, everyone else had their uniforms and black dress on; we were really extravagant,” sophomore Saku Tanaka said.

The Madrigals choir recently made the short trip to College Park for all-day workshops and an invitational event with famous composer Jason Max Ferdinand, where they ended the night with a performance alongside Tacoma Academy, Centennial High School and multiple other university choirs.

Ferdinand got his doctorate at the University of Maryland, College Park, as well as his first experience leading musical groups. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in piano performance and master’s in choral conducting from Oakwood and Morgan State respectively, he directed both the Maryland Opera Chorus and the Chapel Choir and co-conducted two more, according to the UMD School of Music.

He later went on to conduct at his alma mater, Oakwood University, winning multiple gold medals in the World Choir games and the Choir of the Year award in 2017, with Ferdinand himself securing the Most Outstanding Director award from the Llangollen International Musical festival. Needless to say, Ferdinand’s return to the University of Maryland has been an exciting event for the local choral world. The high schools hope to take advantage of their generational talent through these workshops, where the choirs will perform alongside Ferdinand’s conduction and piano performance, receiving critique and compliments along the way.

The day began on a bus to the University of Maryland campus at seven AM and concluded with the concert at 9 p.m. Everyone had extremely limited time to prepare for the workshops, with the time to prepare ranging from close to a month in the Madrigals’ case to only a week for the other high school choirs.

“We normally don’t have performances so early [in the year]… so it was a little difficult to have group cohesion. We had to learn all of the songs pretty fast, though we had a little bit more time than [the other schools]. It was a bit hard, but it ended up working out,” senior Francesca Tweedy said.

Once all the schools arrived, the workshops began. The high schools went to the concert hall, sat on stage and performed each song, with Ferdinand giving tips along the way in order for the groups to improve, as well as get ready for the final concert.

“He is a big deal in the choral world… probably the most sought after teacher now. The fact that he’s at [the university] in our backyard… is crazy,” Madrigals director Kelly Butler said.

The choirs spent about thirty minutes on each song, harmonizing together in the first event since Covid that Madrigals has been able to collaborate with other schools.

“The other schools—Tacoma specifically—were so nice. I felt like our school was kind of mean in comparison. They were giving a standing ovation to everyone performing,” Tweedy said.

Following this portion, all of the schools were given a tour of the UMD campus as a subtle recruiting measure, then returned to the concert hall for individual school practice. While each school was given three songs that were going to be performed as the aggregate, they were also given a unique one. The Madrigals were assigned “A Boy and a Girl” by Eric Whitacre, a slow ballad about a young romance that ends in tragedy. Here, Ferdinand gave the choirs specific pointers and then everyone reunited to prepare for the final concert.

“[Ferdinand] was very passionate. That was my first impression. He was sweating a lot and had a lot of emotion flowing through him that got us motivated. When we were singing our last chord of the last song, it was so big and grand I was about to start crying… He also plays the piano very well,” sophomore Saku Tanaka said.

At last, the concert began. Many former Madrigals members who attend UMD showed up to support their friends, alongside parents and other university students.

“This was my first performance with the Madrigals, and it was really special. There was a really gorgeous hall with a sound system that made our music sound magical,” Tanaka said.

The day ended on an exciting climax, with the high school choirs being joined by their collegiate peers.

“At the end of the concert, all of the UMD choirs and the high schoolers performed a song together. Singing next to them was really nerve-racking because they were so talented,” Tweedy said.

Following the exhausting yet rewarding visit, the Madrigals are set to train for their winter concert at school in December.