Sometimes, we encounter a spirit so radiant with joy that it seems to just seep through the body’s pores to shimmer in the air and light upon anyone lucky enough to be in that spirit’s path. Magnolia Strange is one of those spirits. A multi-talented RenFest performer, Magnolia will soon release “O Greenest Branch”, an album of the exquisite musical stylings of the real-life-feminine-icon Hildegarde von Bingen (available for preorder now). We invite you to get to know Magnolia; we think you’ll feel lighter and happier if you do!
Who are you and what do you do?
Howdy! I’m Magnolia Strange and I’m a variety artist (singing, dancing, fire performance, modeling, and more). The project I’ve been pouring my heart into lately is my solo album “O Greenest Branch,” a collection of a cappella medieval tunes penned by Hildegard von Bingen in the 12th century.
Where do you do your work, including faires and festivals?
I’ve performed across the country and around the world in a variety of venues: bars, lounges, schools, churches, street corners, and these days, festival stages. My husband and I perform as “Judas and Magnolia” at Renaissance festivals, including Sterling, Scarborough, Sherwood, Florida Renaissance Festival, St. Louis, and more over the past seven years or so. You can find out more at www.JudasAndMagnolia.com or connect with us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, or Patreon.
Why do you do what you do?
I’m so glad you asked! At the beginning of every show, I explain: we do what we do because we truly believe that you must BE and you must CREATE the things you want to see in the world. We love to see beauty, and joy, and teamwork SO we are going to be working TOGETHER (us + patrons) to create something AWESOME.
How do you work? What research do you do? In other words, just a little about your process.
For this Hildegard album I’ve been brushing up on my Latin and diving into German, reading her original works and reading books and articles interpreting her work, her life, and studying the historical context in which she lived. I’ve also delved more into Church history and feminist theology. This, in particular, has been really dear to my heart having been raised Catholic, and later struggling to reconcile my identities as Catholic and feminist, then going on to live and work in a Catholic Worker house and urban farm and befriend an Oblate who was active in the Womens’ Ordination movement. I’ve also become well acquainted with so many beautiful recordings of Hildegard’s work, including revisiting the first album I ever owned: a CD of Hildegard von Bingen music by Leisa McCord, which I picked up after one of her shows at Texas Renaissance Festival around 2002.
What’s your background?
I’ve been training and performing vocally since I was nine years old. My folks say that as a very young child I was actually rather quiet… until I saw The Little Mermaid. Then they couldn’t shut me up- I was always singing one of those songs! I wanted to be in the school choir so So SO badly when I was really little, but only fourth and fifth graders could join so I just had to wait, undoubtedly practicing my Little Mermaid songs on repeat, a lesson in patience for my parents for sure. I finally joined the choir in fourth grade and I’ve been participating and performing in some kind of choir, band, ensemble, or solo situation ever since!
What art/music do you most identify with?
Oof. Depends on the hour, honestly. In distressing times I lean into songs of hope and resilience, so lately that’s been a lot of The Wailin’ Jennys, Beautiful Chorus, Yaima, Ayla Nereo, and some Kali Uchis and Jamila Woods. Honorable mentions go to Comeback Kid, Lauren Daigle, Hank Williams, Conway Twitty & Loretta Lynn, and India.Arie.
Describe a real life situation that inspired you?
My experiences at the Texas Renaissance Festival as a young child have undoubtedly shaped who I am today.
When I was nine years old one of my dad’s high school buddies, Tom, was going to get married to his lady (Kellie) at TRF. We had never been to a ren faire, so we booked tickets not knowing exactly what to expect. Monday I told my favorite teacher that we were going to the Renaissance festival that weekend and she gushed that she loved going to the faire and we just HAD to dress up, because she and her husband always did and it was so much more fun if you dress up when you go to the Renaissance festival!
Well, Mrs. Bingham’s word was worth more than gold, so I informed my mother that very evening that I HAD to dress up that weekend because Mrs. Bingham said so. You can imagine my mother’s reaction!!! After some sarcasm and eye rolling, my devoted mother drove me to Hollywood Video to rent Ever After and you know the scene where Drew Barrymore comes out from behind the screen trying on THE DRESS? Well, or course, when we get to that part I gasp and declare “MOM. THAT’S THE DRESS!” Ha! So Mom pauses the VHS tape, sketches out a pattern on some newspaper, and we take a field trip to the garage and rummage through the fabric bins. I found a purple, a white, and a white lace fabric, she took some measurements, and that was that. I like to think my mother’s ingenuity and dedication shine through me from time to time. I still remember Friday night as we were driving the four+ hours to the Houston area, my mom was in the front seat finishing up the beads and sequins on the bodice by hand. I can tell you now, Mrs. Bingham was right!
At TRF Tom and Kellie had a beautiful ceremony (btw, they still enjoy attending faire together). I witnessed a witch being executed, I had my face painted and my hair braided, a knight jousted in my honor AND won AND lifted me into his saddle with him, one of the Queen’s Ladies in Waiting spent time talking with us in one of the rose gardens and then invited me to join the Queen’s Court and dance with them on stage…
…and one of my dearest memories:
Wandering the lanes with my family I suddenly stopped, spell bound by an angelic sound floating on the wind. I dragged my family to the source: a young woman, alone on a stage, singing the most beautiful music I’d ever heard. I made my family watch her show, tip her at the end, and buy her CD- an album of Hildegard von Bingen music.
Today I open each of our Judas and Magnolia shows with this same Hildegard music sung a cappella. My hope is that it captures someone else’s heart as it has mine!
I’m so grateful for my personal experiences as a child patron in the ren faire setting, because my memories of being in total awe of it all inform my work today. With this current project in particular I am acutely aware that we often don’t know to what extent we touch others’ lives. Time and time again I see that we all are inspiring SOMEONE, whether we realize it or not, and it’s hard to go wrong if we center ourselves and our actions in love, be it love for each other and/or love for our craft.
Professionally, what’s your goal?
I want to embody “viriditas,” which we see across Hildegard’s works. This can be translated literally as “Greenness” but also alludes to “vitality,” “lushness,” and “growth.” Hildegard uses this term often when writing of the universe, nature, and the human body, all of which are intertwined. Furthermore, this leads us to the bearing of fruit, the celebration of the divinity of creation and the act of creating. For me, it ultimately comes down to creating and inspiring beauty and love in and for others. To say to our audience: look around! See what wondrous things we can create together! And hope that we can fill them up, so that they leave us overflowing, taking some of that beauty and love back with them into their own spaces, and perhaps sharing what they’ve found.
In a companion piece to this feature on Magnolia Strange‘s album of the works of Hildegarde von Bingen, staff writer Stacy Williams Bakri introduces our readers to the amazing feminist spiritual leader, a true rock star of medieval music, healing, writing, and service. https://ladyfairemagazine.com/2021/04/29/hildegarde-von-bingen-the-og-badass-medieval-abbess/