ASU's Early Music Chamber Choir – for those who love Renaissance music
October 21, 2010
It’s the start of the Monday rehearsal for MUP 379/579. William Gorton, the director, asks the students to stand and stretch.
Then, there’s some warm-up singing and scales with “nonsense syllables” to get the singers to unify their vowel formation.
Next, since there’s a concert in the offing, and rehearsal time is dwindling, the ensemble retires to its favorite rehearsal site, a stairwell in ASU Gammage that has great acoustics.
Gorton cajoles the small ensemble both with praise and admonition.
“Drop the jaw a little more. Make the sounds more vertical,” he tells the sopranos.
“Was that solid, or a little weak?” he asks after a slightly sloppy phrase.
“Slide the notes,” he cajoles. “The voice has no frets.”
And thus goes the rehearsal of the Early Music Chamber Choir, which is one of the more unusual ensembles in the ASU School of Music in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts: it’s open to community members as well as students.
(Several other ensembles also accept community members, including the ASU Choral Union, African Drum Ensemble, Desert Gold Chorale at the Polytechnic campus.)
The Early Music Chamber Choir, which includes ASU staff member Kristen LaRue, will give a free performance at 7:30 p.m., Oct. 21, in Organ Hall on ASU’s Tempe campus.
The program of Renaissance sacred music, titled “Songs of Penitence and Praise,” will include works by Palestrina, Byrd, Josquin Desprez, and Monteverdi.
The chamber choir is open by audition only. Students sign up for one credit hour, while faculty, staff, and community members pay a $35 fee per semester. The membership currently stands at 15; the maximum for the choir is 20, according to Gorton, who is a doctoral student in choral conducting.
Though the members thoroughly enjoy singing in the choir, the ensemble was founded as a teaching tool last year by Catherine Saucier, who had the idea, and Gregory Gentry, both faculty members in the School of Music.
“Both Dr. Gentry and I are faculty sponsors and supervise the doctoral choral-conducting student who directs the ensemble each semester,” Saucier said. “The emphasis of the ensemble is pedagogical: choir members study a broad range of historical performance issues and resources while acquiring familiarity with a diverse repertory of early vocal works.”
Saucier said the ensemble gives at least one free, public performance in the Herberger School of Music each semester and participates in events sponsored by the Arizona Center for Medieval and Renaissance Studies and the Phoenix Early Music Society.
Singers are chosen based on “voice quality, reading ability, and style sensitivity,” Gorton noted. “Our repertoire is rather specialized, so there is a particular sound and ability level I am looking for.
At the moment we are doing Renaissance (sacred) motets for the most part. We will prepare some holiday music to do around the concerts in December (casual pre-show participation), and in the spring we will probably do a number of madrigals or French chansons, and possibly a mass.”
LaRue said she first heard about the choir via a flyer posted in the Durham Language and Literature Building last fall, and immediately auditioned.
“I like singing in it because really, music is my first love,” she said. “Second, I need to sing for my mental health, and this is an on-campus group whose rehearsals I can easily fit into my schedule.
“Third, this is my absolute favorite kind of music – especially high-Renaissance motets and all kinds of chant.
“Fourth, I love the history of the medieval and Renaissance eras in Western Europe (my MA is in music history; I studied the life and songs of a 12th-century English saint). I think I mostly like it because of the spiritual element inherent in the music. It really does make a kind of magic, for listeners and performers alike.”
Alaya Kuntz, a doctoral student in English who is studying medieval women’s writings, learned about the choir on the School of Music website, and immediately auditioned.
“I love singing in EMCC because I find early sacred music to be absolutely transcendent. I enjoy being part of the beautiful texture of polyphony of some of the Renaissance sacred music we are working on, and I am grateful for the opportunity to sing with such a small, dedicated choir,” she said.
“When I first moved here to start my PhD a year and a few months ago, I was looking for a choir so I'd have something outside my field to participate in. I was thrilled to see that there was an early music small choir starting up just that semester (Fall 2009) for the first time.”