Music that resonates and communicates emotion
Douglas Frank has founded the BMC Madrigal Singers.

Music that resonates and communicates emotion

BMC Madrigal Singers will perform ‘Christmas in Song’ on Sunday

BRATTLEBORO — When Douglas Frank was a child, it was not unusual for him to find stars like Jimmy Cagney in his home. The young Frank was scared when the Wicked Witch of the West - the actress Margaret Hamilton - appeared at the family's door.

His father, Carl Frank, performed dozens of roles in the golden age of radio, including in the infamous 1938 broadcast of “The War of the Worlds.” His mother, Gertrude (Trudy) Warner, was the voice of Margot Lane in “The Shadow” and of Della Street in “Perry Mason.”

Frank recalls his mother “going on and on about the voice being the sole instrument” of communicating emotion. He recalls his father teaching acting from a book that was “filled with all these vocal exercises,” drilling into his students the concept that one's performance “resonates with what the vocal means.”

All that family history comes together to explain his love of madrigals.

The music of madrigals - sung in two- to eight-part harmonies without musical accompaniment - changes to reflect the content of the words being sung, a form that Frank said reflects “tremendous humanity expressed through the merger of music and poetry.”

That phenomenon, known as “word painting,” makes “words like 'sad' sound sad, and 'happy' sound happy,” he explained.

Just as his parents did, in their own way, in the halcyon days of broadcasting.

BMC Madrigal Singers to perform Christmas songs

The 10 members of the BMC Madrigal Singers - “auditioned and selected to achieve a seamless blend of polyphonic harmony,” according to the group's founder, Frank - will present their first concert this weekend.

“Our debut performance on Sunday will include Christmas songs, hymns, and carols by mostly Renaissance composers, many in the style of the madrigal,” said Frank, the founder of the group and an award-winning director of the 16th-century musical form.

Frank will lead the singers - Jenny Karstad, Sharry Manning, Kathryn Tolbert, Jenny Holan, Eric Robinson, Tom Baehr, Walt Cramer, Gary Clay, Jonathan Potter, and David Robinson - in the debut concert.

The group rehearses weekly in what Frank describes as “the new and awesome” Brattleboro Music Center.

Sunday's performance celebrates the 70th anniversary of “Christmas in Song,” a compendium of hymns and carols first published in 1947, Frank said, adding that it will include holiday tunes and texts from the Middle Ages through the 20th century, featuring “beautiful and classic works by beloved and rarely heard composers.”

Those composers include Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, from Italy, and Heinrich Schütz, Michael Praetorius, and Philipp Nicolai, from Germany.

From advertising, back to music

Frank, the son of parents who were voice talents in the golden age of radio, began a career as a professional child musician and actor at age 9, and for the next 10 years, he performed in educational projects, commercial children's albums, and in advertising. That Armour Hot Dogs “even-kids-with-chicken-pox” commercial? He sang it.

He graduated from Oberlin College and was trained as a vocalist and conductor at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. There, he founded and directed the Oberlin Madrigal Singers.

Having watched his radio-star parents' fortunes suffer after the advent of television, Frank said he developed “a phobia about money.” He found a career in public relations, marketing, and advertising for more than two decades, including a 14-year stint owning and operating his own New York advertising agency.

In 2000, he sold the agency and launched the Douglas Frank Chorale. His intent was “to pursue the art form he loves, and to help revitalize the vocal arts audience.”

The Douglas Frank Chorale's 2000 recording “The A Cappella Singer” won multiple awards, including the Contemporary A Cappella Recording Award in 2001 for Best Classical Album.

After several years of critical acclaim, Frank unexpectedly found himself as the single parent of two young children and put his music and touring on hold. And when the kids grew up, he was ready for a change.

“I was born in New York, I worked in New York, I sang in New York, and I decided, 'I'm getting the hell out of New York,'” he said.

For Frank, now retired, Brattleboro is “a place where you can get out of the city but not quite get out into the countryside.”

Now, when he visits New York City, he finds the environment a “crazy, manic experience” where “people are mean to each other.”

Frank said the BMC Madrigal Singers don't have a plan yet, but perhaps a spring concert will be in the offing.

“There is an incredible abundance of vocal talent in this community, and I've been putting together and directing madrigal groups since high school,” Frank said. “I was told that there hadn't been a madrigal group in town for a while, and it felt like an intimate, select ensemble would be fun to do and would fit right in.”

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