Madeleine Truninger joined Ars Musica 37 years ago when a neighbor in Demarest showed her an audition notice in the local newspaper. A core member of the alto section, she has stayed with Ars Musica because of her friendships with other singers. Madeleine has sung with all four of Ars Musica’s conductors. Although she has appreciated the different styles that each conductor has brought to the group, she truly enjoyed Italo Marchini’s focus on opera noting: “I love opera, and Italo got us to Carnegie Hall.”
Music has filled Madeleine’s life since early childhood. Her mother sang in a choir and especially enjoyed singing lieder. Famed Hungarian-born Swiss soprano, Maria Stader, cradled the infant Madeleine transferring to the little girl a deep love of music. Madeleine’s favorite operas are Mascagni’s “Cavalleria Rusticana” and Verdi’s “Il Trovatore.” The Mozart and Faure Requiems are dear to her heart. Ragtime, especially Scott Joplin, is her musical choice when her spirits need a lift, while Schubert’s songs are an enduring joy.
A native of Switzerland, Madeleine began singing in the children’s chorus of her church. Because she was already able to read music, she was assigned to sing alto by her school teachers, although she was a true soprano. She continued singing as an adult, and joined a group in Switzerland similar to the Berkshire Choral Festival in Massachusetts, which she has attended three times. With her Swiss organization, she toured Israel in 1961.
Being Swiss gave Madeleine the opportunity to learn many languages: French, German, and Swiss German. She became fluent in Italian while working as a governess in Rome. Madeleine and her beloved husband, Arturo, whom she met through Swiss friends four months after moving to the US to learn English, hit it off because of their common interest in speaking Italian. Of her interest in languages, Madeleine notes: “While working [in New York City], I was one block away from the New School, so I took the opportunity to take Spanish classes for four semesters. I was even offered a job to teach German, but did not qualify without a BA.”
Although a kindergarten teacher in Switzerland, she worked as an assistant nursery school teacher at First Presbyterian Church in NY as her two-year Swiss diploma didn’t qualify her for a regular teaching position. For a while, she sang with the New York Choral Society, but commuting to Queens after the half-day school and returning in the evening for rehearsals proved too much, and she had to give it up. When Arturo and Madeleine moved from Sunnyside, Queens to their newly purchased house in Demarest, Madeleine declared, “I HAVE to sing again.” Soon thereafter, in the fall of 1976, she found Ars Musica, which was then conducted by founder, Joyce Keshner, and meeting in River Edge.
Madeleine stopped working in the NYC nursery school shortly after moving to NJ as she wanted to devote her time to her new home and garden. However, she began volunteering at the local library and was eventually hired when the library needed more personnel. Her involvement with Ars Musica also continued to grow. While under Joyce’s leadership, and before the age of home computers, Madeleine began providing concert tickets to members and sending out complimentary tickets, tracking all the choir’s ticket sales by hand for over 20 years. Madeleine was regularly involved with the annual garage sale, a now defunct fundraising event, and even chaired the effort one year. She served on the Board of Directors in 1980s for 2 terms in a row (6years) and was re-elected to the Board from 2009 to 2012. She continues to assist with “Songs Under Starlight” each spring and often offers her now famous carrot cake and sauerkraut for auction.
Sauerkraut? Madeleine’s wildly popular homemade sauerkraut has auctioned for as much as $60. Madeleine prefers to make this treat in late fall when the cabbage is at its best. Shredding, salting, sterilizing—preparation takes all day. Once processed, Madeleine ferments her sauerkraut in a clay pot which she made just for her delicious sour side dish. “The clay pot (13 inches tall) in which I ferment my sauerkraut was hand made by yours truly! I live two blocks away from the Old Church Cultural Center here in Demarest and for several years I took pottery classes there.”
Madeleine is one of many Swiss ladies who have been members of Ars Musica over time. The current “Swiss contingent” includes Ruth Scherrer and Susan Keller. Ruth was new to NJ when she and Madeleine discovered a shared love of singing and Madeleine introduced her to Ars Musica. Susan sang with Ridgewood Choral for some years and joined Ars Musica through Ruth.
Now retired for quite a few years, Madeleine takes yoga classes and continues to enjoy singing with Ars Musica. “I made wonderful friends through the years. I got to know a lot of people—so many of them have come and gone.” Her favorite Ars Musica experience is the “Othello” concert at Carnegie Hall. “Carlo Bergonzi [in the title role] and the Three Tenors there to support him, made it extra special for us. I even encountered them in the stairwell—well, at least one—Placido Domingo!”
Author: Robin Kantrowitz, based on an interview from Marjorie Winters