In the fall of 1958, a group of musically-inclined students at the University of Maryland at College Park began gathering during the noon hour to sing madrigals for their own enjoyment. Madrigals are secular polyphonic songs with parts for four to six voices, usually having no accompaniment; the style developed in Europe during the Renaissance. In 1959, the group was officially recognized by the university and became known as the Madrigal Singers, under the direction of Rose Marie Grentzer, a professor of music and chairperson of the Music Education Division of the University of Maryland at College Park.
Due to the nature of the music, the group remained small over the years, ranging from twelve to twenty-two singers and musicians. The students, both undergraduates and graduates, came from various academic departments on campus. The Singers performed concerts of music from the Middle Ages up to the modern day, though the focus was always the Renaissance. They used Renaissance-period instruments and wore Renaissance costumes specially crafted by the Home Economics Department.
The Madrigal Singers performed locally and internationally. Local highlights included concerts at the White House, the headquarters of the Organization of American States, and the Folger Shakespeare Library. Performances were also held on the University of Maryland campus and at other schools, libraries, museums, and organizations, as well as at national meetings, such as the Music Educators National Conference. In the late 1960s and in 1970, the group gave several personal performances for the author Katherine Anne Porter.
The Madrigal Singers also sang on television and radio and made recordings for distribution to other countries. Beginning in 1959, the group performed each Christmas season on Baltimore, Maryland, television as the WBAL-TV Carollers.
Their success as a musical group reached its pinnacle in 1964 when they participated in a U.S. Cultural Presentations Program tour sponsored by the State Department. For fourteen weeks from February to May, the Madrigal Singers performed over ninety concerts in eleven countries in the Near East, North Africa, and the British Isles. For more information about the Madrigal Singers' 1964 tour, please see Eric Cartier's audio story, published in Provenance.
The Madrigal Singers appear to have disbanded sometime around 1974.