What is "Early Music?"
The term "Early Music" was coined in the mid-20th century to describe a particular approach to medieval, Renaissance and Baroque music, in which performers focus on the music's original cultural and historical context, including the use of historical period instruments and languages. It's not quite the same as "reenactment," but it has some characteristics in common: Early Music performers study the old instruments and the techniques that were used to play them; the ancient notation; the archaic languages; and so on. (There is one major difference, however - Early Music performers don't usually dress in costume unless they're doing something with a theatrical aspect, like an opera, medieval play, or madrigal dinner.)
The music of the medieval, Renaissance and Baroque eras spans a thousand years, and ranges from plainchant to madrigals; from Renaissance dances to Baroque chamber music; from early American "shape-note" hymns to early colonial Latin American music. Within it, we can hear the musical "roots" of many kinds of later western music: classical, sacred, folk, traditional, and popular. Even rock and jazz, in addition to their significant African-American heritage, sometimes also use western "modal" scales and harmonizations that were handed down to us from medieval times. Improvisation was also an important part of many kinds of ancient western music, leading to the continuing creation of "new" performances of "old" music. It's exciting to discover that in the act of opening this window to the past, we are actually creating "new" and exciting performances of music. It's a constantly unfolding process of musical discovery, for both the performers and the listeners.
The ensemble is open to both singers and instrumentalists, with the understanding that everyone may be called upon to use their voices! Our players mostly use historical instruments (like the viola da gamba pictured at left, and the medieval fiddle or "vielle" pictured above), especially as we continue to have the good fortune to slowly build Tech’s period instrument collection. However, we occasionally will use a modern instrument for practical purposes, if we have no access to its early counterpart. (We never turn away a player just because they've never tried a historical instrument -- the whole point is to learn how!)
We have regularly scheduled rehearsal times on Mondays (6-7:30, sectionals 4-5) and Wednesdays (viols 5-6, winds 6-7), and a vocal sectional on Friday (3-4:30).
We generally do one whole-group (Collegium Musicum*) project with at least one major public performance per semester, with occasional additional performances. We also sometimes give performance-demonstrations for local schools.
Here are the titles of some of our past programs:
- Songs of Praise and Devotion: Medieval Italian Laude Spirituali
- Dances, Catches and Consorts: Diverse Musick from 17th-Century England
- Music from an English Masque (pictured, right)
- From Malory to Morley: A Renaissance Journey
- The “Real” Carmina Burana
- Knights, Maidens and Minstrels: music from medieval France
- Miracles and Mayhem (including one of the Plays of St Nicholas)
- An Evening of Monteverdi
- The Star Shining on the Mountain: A Medieval Spanish Christmas
*What's a "Collegium Musicum?"
The Latin term "Collegium Musicum" originally referred to a group of musicians who came together to play and sing music for their own edification and enjoyment. The use of the term continued up to the time of Bach (17-18th century). Members of these “collegia” ranged from accomplished amateurs to professional musicians. The name was particularly associated with groups of musicians at universities. As a result, when interest in historical performance began to flourish in the 20th century, the name “Collegium Musicum” came to be used to describe a group of university musicians playing what is often referred to as “early music," or music of the medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and early classical periods played with historical techniques on period instruments.