MSHS Madrigals has grown since its debut in 1977



Kate Williams Smith doesn’t want to age herself prematurely, yet she offers this view as she reflects on the lengthy Mahomet-Seymour Madrigals tradition.

“The Modern Era,” Smith said, “began with Janet Watkins at Christmas 1983.”

Watkins, the district’s long-time choral director, offered stability to a position that was known for its turnover prior to her arrival.

Erin Mahin Fulk, a 1981 M-S graduate recalled, “We had a rotating door of choral instructors.”

From the time popular band and chorus director Larry Gnagey left the position at the end of the 1976-77 school year, M-S had five high school choral directors in the six years (two staying for only one semester each) that preceded Watkins’ promotion in 1983.

Those six years, however, were marked by a limited Madrigal effort, which was under the direction of Jan Broady Hopkins for the first three years, starting in 1977-78.

No meal was served the first year as the singers performed at school as part of a concert with the chorus, and at assorted area venues, such as nursing homes.

The second year, the dinner performance was again for one night and was held at Mahomet’s Tree Top Restaurant (now Los Zarapes), in the banquet room.

In Year 3, it relocated to the Round Barn Banquet Center, in Champaign.

The event stayed at the Round Barn in 1980-81, when Rick Rhodes was the director, and in 1981-82, when Elizabeth Cornelius was the person in charge.

Cornelius left M-S after the fall semester and was replaced by Dan Rinkenberger for the spring term.

Mike Manser took over the choral department for the 1982-83 school year and the Madrigals performance was again held at the Round Barn.

Smith, a 1983 M-S graduate, remembers having “five choir teachers in four years.”

According to Smith’s research, this is year 42 for Madrigal performances at M-S.

“MSHS has had Madrigals continuously since Christmas 1977,” Smith said.

After the early carousel among directors, there were just three people in charge of Madrigals for a 35-year period, Watkins, Leslie Manfredo and then Jill Rinkel, who retired last spring.
Current director Nicole Kuglich is the school’s eighth Madrigal director.

Tracy Thomas Tringali, who now lives in Florida, was involved with Mahomet-Seymour’s Madrigals as both a junior and a senior.

She graduated in 1979.

The students were responsible for providing their attire in the 1970s.

“The girls were all in long dresses,” Tringali said, “but they had to be somewhat authenticated.”

The Madrigals and the Swing Choir were the prestigious M-S singing groups during Tringali’s era.

“They had some of your better voices,” she said.

Many of the same students were also together for the Spring Musical.

“We have a lot of deep friendships to this day because we all sang together,” Tringali said.

The seating at the Tree Top was limited and the audience was mainly parents.

“The Tree Top catered the meal,” Tringali said. “It was well-received.”

Though the group officially performed publicly just once each year, they were active beyond that one night.

“A lot of what we did was in nursing homes in Champaign and Urbana,” Tringali said.

Her musical upbringing in Mahomet gave Tringali the confidence to try out for the 120-member Master Chorale of Tampa Bay, where many of the singers are “career music professionals,” she said.

Tringali is now a fifth-year member of a group which performs with the Florida Orchestra and is planning a European Tour in June 2019.

“It’s terrific to sing at this level,” she said.

While she is proud to be part of the first M-S Madrigal class, Tringali is even more elated by what has transpired in her hometown during her post-graduate years.

“It’s very re-affirming to see what Mr. and  Mrs. Watkins did and how they’ve grown that,” Tringali said. “They have catapulted that music program.

“It’s as successful as our big (Tampa) Plant High School, with 2,300 students.”


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