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Black Marigold

The all-female woodwind quintet Black Marigold will perform Saturday at Portage Center for the Arts.

An all-female woodwind quintet is bringing a six-pack of beer songs Saturday to Portage.

Black Marigold of Madison is serious about its music honoring Madison beers — songs that should nevertheless inspire some not-so-serious feelings, members said.

“It is fun to imagine a chamber music group drinking too much on the job, isn’t it?” said French horn player Kia Karlen.

In 2016, friend and New York composer Brian DuFord saw a picture on Facebook of the group holding beers and commented that he’d like to write music about beer for the group.

“We thought he was joking, but he was serious,” said oboe player Laura Medisky.

Black Marigold commissioned the music after DuFord and the group went on a tasting tour of Madison area breweries later that year, Karlen said. DuFord wrote 18 beer movements about their shared experiences.

“We shared tiny flights throughout the day, but we didn’t overdo it,” Karlen said of the tasting tour. “Brian had prepared this amazing checklist — a chart to help us analyze the beer. Usually people will talk about a beer’s smoky flavor or the nuttiness, but he was asking us questions like, ‘If this beer were a superhero, what superhero would it be?’ We thought about the weather and different landscapes for beers — questions that were a lot easier to answer as we went through more beer.”

Included in Saturday’s six-pack are: “Crop Circle Wheat,” inspired by the beer made by Great Dane Pub and Brewery; “Banjo Cat” from One Barrel Brewing Co.; “Josephine Nitro” from Wisconsin Brewing Co.; “Mad Town Nut Brown” and “Sticky McDoogle” by Ale Asylum; and the group’s beer music finale, “The Beer Baron.”

“It’s been an incredible experience,” Medisky said. “It turned out to be this huge work. He knows our personalities and had factored in our impressions of the beers we tasted and then wrote them with the players in mind. It is all very personal.”

The group performed all 18 beer movements in June 2017 at the Double Reed Society international conference in Madison, where it was “very well received and reviewed,” Medisky said. The group is working to record the entire beer collection, and live recordings are available on the group’s website at and YouTube.

Black Marigold formed in the summer of 2012. Saturday’s performance will be its first in Portage. The show will feature a mix of traditional woodwind quintet music, in addition to the six-pack, said Karlen, who plays music in two other Madison-area music groups and is the director of education at the Madison Children’s Museum.

“One comment we frequently get from audiences is they can tell we enjoy playing music together,” Karlen said. “That’s a big compliment for us and it’s true. We’re not doing this to travel the world or anything like that. We’re doing it because we genuinely enjoy playing music together.

“We like to present music in an informal manner, music that’s accessible but not dumbed down or too easy,” she said. “We’re not a stuffy group. We’ll talk about the pieces and tell the stories behind them, especially the beer pieces.”

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.



Portage Daily Register Reporter