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The Case for Collegium Musicum

Texas Tech University Early Music Ensemble

Texas Tech University Early Music Ensemble

Seventh in our series of guest articles marking Early Music Month

By Angela Mariani

There is something about early music, and perhaps chamber music in general, that seems to create community. My students often bond with each other and create friendships that last beyond their tenure in the Collegium Musicum at Texas Tech University. In some cases, alumni who remain in the area have requested to stay in the ensemble because it has been such a positive experience for them.

TTU Early Music Ensemble in rehearsal

TTU Early Music Ensemble in rehearsal

There is no early music “department” at our School of Music, and no performance faculty who specialize primarily in historical instruments. I suspect that many of us collegium directors are in exactly this circumstance, possibly even the majority of us. Most of my students have had little or no experience with early music before coming to Tech. The Collegium Musicum is a place where they can try something they’ve never tried, go out on a limb, play a new instrument, improvise, or try new techniques; and it happens in a spirit of experimentation and collaboration rather than judgment and competition. Once in a while, a student is inspired to change course and specialize in historical performance, but this is the exception rather than the rule.

The rewards, however, are manifold: for many of these students, through this very “old” music we have opened a window to a vibrant new sound world. We have put music in front of them that they have never seen; we have empowered them to engage in improvisation; we have put instruments in their hands that they have only seen in pictures. The repertoire they “have to read about” in music history suddenly jumps off the page for them, magically recontextualized — research meets practice, and it is all done through a process that fosters collaboration and communitas.

Angela Mariani is Associate Professor of Musicology at the Texas Tech University School of Music and the director of the Texas Tech Early Music Ensemble. Dr. Mariani has displayed a love of many types of music. Before earning a Master’s degree in Early Music Vocal Performance and a Doctoral degree in Early Music Ensemble Direction from the Early Music Institute (now the Historical Performance Institute) at Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music, Dr. Mariani began her career with a focus on folk and rock music. She received her BA in Music Theory from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, where she became interested in early music, performing in the UMass Collegium Musicum.

Dr. Mariani is the most recent recipient of Early Music America’s Thomas Binkley Award for outstanding achievement in performance and scholarship by the director of a university or college early music ensemble. 

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Bach Society Houston Puts Bach In Schools

Bach in the Schools

Bach in the Schools

Fourth in our series of guest articles marking Early Music Month

By Douglas Koch

“Bach had how many kids?!” / Fascination with the sound of the harpsichord. / To our violinist: “Doesn’t your arm get tired?” / Mouths agape at hearing a booming bass voice / Giggles at the attire of the Bach’s time.

These are some of the reactions of grade-school children when exposed to the life, times, and music of J. S. Bach. Last year, under the leadership of director Rick Erickson and music associate Christopher Holman, Bach Society Houston founded Bach in Schools, an educational outreach program that is a 45-minute presentation geared toward students grades 3–5 and offered free to any interested school. The presentations include discussion about Bach’s life and music and feature performances by a professional singer and baroque violinist or flutist, accompanied by a harpsichordist, who all are members of the Bach Society’s choir and period-instrument orchestra.

The educational goals touch on three areas that are part of the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills set by the state’s Board of Education:

  • Historical/cultural heritage. Students relate music to history, society, and culture.
  • Response/evaluation. Students respond to and evaluate music and performances.
  • Perception. Students describe and analyze musical sound and artistry.

Bach Society Houston is building relationships with select schools around the Houston area, especially targeting schools in underprivileged areas. The goal is to build long-term relationships with music programs of varying sizes and resources.

Houston is blessed with outstanding musical organizations that devote much attention to exposing children to the wonder and joys of classical music. We believe that we can open minds — and doors — for these young and wonderfully receptive children.

Two young students get up-close with the harpsichord.

Two young students get up-close with the harpsichord.

Erickson notes that “the music of Johann Sebastian Bach is timeless — it’s something that resonates with people of all ages and backgrounds. In Bach’s day, children were an integral part of music-making. In fact, at least half of his choir consisted of boys.“

We are looking to inspire the next generation of early-music performers and listeners. As one student remarked, “I want to do what you’re doing when I grow up!” We share this hope.

Bach Society Houston is a 35-year old professional orchestra and choir dedicated to presenting exemplary, historically-informed professional performances of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach and his contemporaries. The Bach Choir will perform at the 2017 BachFest in Leipzig — the first professional American choir to receive this invitation.

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Baltimore Baroque Band: An Ensemble Grows

Baltimore Baroque Band

Baltimore Baroque Band

 

Third in our series of guest articles for Early Music Month

By John Moran

What’s special about the Baltimore Baroque Band is the generous, collaborative spirit it fosters. It’s nice when the local paper describes the group as “technically polished, rich in color and refined nuances” (Baltimore Sun), but what’s really rewarding is the way everyone brings their best to the ensemble, a bunch of talented students playing side-by-side with their professors and a few very dedicated community members. I love the way everyone in the group is always ready to pitch in to move a harpsichord, to make parts, or to put in time for an extra rehearsal. About half of our students are early-music majors, and the other half join for the love and novelty of it. Nearly all of our alums, including the non-early-music majors, go on to have period-instrument playing form a part of their professional lives.

It’s great to be able to step back and look with some perspective at how far we’ve come, locally and nationally. When violinist Risa Browder and I founded the group at Peabody Conservatory in the fall of 2005, there was some resistance from our administration and from some of the school’s “modern” faculty. For its first year, we offered the class on a trial basis for which we were not paid. I think that when we came up with the name “Baltimore Baroque Band”, which I still like, we wanted to avoid the word “orchestra.” Consciously, we were announcing what would differentiate this conductor-less group from the school’s big orchestras, but subconsciously maybe we wanted to be sure not to step on any toes. Now, over a decade later, the climate today couldn’t be better. We enjoy broad support from our colleagues and administrators at Peabody and a wonderful following from the public.

Baltimore Baroque Band 3As part of Early Music Month, we presented a concert, From Zimmermann’s Coffee House, with a program inspired by Bach’s Leipzig Collegium Musicum, with music by W. F. Bach, Telemann, and J. S. Bach: the double violin concerto, the harpsichord concerto in F minor, and Brandenburg No. 3. It was heartening to see a full house in the school’s lovely Griswold Hall, a diverse audience ranging in age from about five to over 80. The appreciation of the audience was palpable, not just in the applause, but also in the way so many of them wanted to engage with performers afterwards, to congratulate and thank them, and to ask questions about the music and the instruments.

At a time when our country feels so divided, we musicians are fortunate in being able to bring people together and to provide respite and sustenance. The students just want to keep doing more. Their top question for us after the concert: “So, what are we doing next week?”

John Moran teaches viola da gamba, baroque cello, and performance practice at the Peabody Conservatory, where he also co-directs the Baltimore Baroque Band. He studied at Oberlin and the Schola Cantorum (Basel, Switzerland) and subsequently earned a Ph.D. in musicology at King’s College, London. He is artistic director of Modern Musick, currently resident at Georgetown University. As a member of REBEL, heard frequently on NPR’s “Performance Today,” he performs all over the U.S. and in Europe. He is the vice president of the Viola da Gamba Society of America and president of the Kindler Cello Society of Washington, DC. He is married to the violinist Risa Browder.

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Early Music On-the-Air

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For many throughout the world, their first exposure to early music will come not through a class or as part of a performing ensemble but over their home or car stereo or streaming on the internet. This Early Music Month, Early Music America applauds the work of terrestrial radio and streaming audio broadcasters who see the value in providing a home for early music. Below you will find a list of just a few of the many programs and streams where you can find early music online or on-the-air.

Find or submit your local program on EMA’s Radio & Retail page.

RADIO

(some programs may also be available via streaming.)

Biscuits and Bach (WDAV) Biscuits & Bach features music from the Renaissance to the Baroque period and beyond. Hosted by Rachel Stewart.

The Distant Mirror (WWFM)  Distant Mirror features the splendor and richness of the vocal, choral and instrumental music of the Medieval and Renaissance eras. Hosted by Allan Kelly.

The Early Muse (Hawaii Public radio) The Early Muse‘s aim is to bring to life for listeners the 500 formative years of European music from Medieval chant and troubadour songs, through the rich polyphony of Renaissance sacred and secular music, and into the Baroque ‘revolution’ of the 17th century with its invention of the opera, oratorio, ballet and orchestral music as we know it today. Hosted by Ian Capps.

The Early Music Show (WKCR) Dedicated to Western music of the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods.

Harmonia Early Music (WFIU – syndicated) Since 1991, Harmonia presents today’s performers of medieval, renaissance, and baroque music bringing to life the music of the distant past. Hosted by Angela Mariani.

Here of a Sunday Morning (WBAI) Primarily early music, usually, but not exclusively in historically informed performances, with talk about the people who created it, and the conditions under which they made it. Hosted by Chris Whent.

Millennium of Music (WCLV – syndicated and XM Radio) The sources and mainstreams of European music from the thousand years before the birth of Bach. Hosted by Robert Aubrey Davis.

Musica Antiqua (WORT) Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque music from early chant to 1750, voice, choral, and period instruments.

Sunday Baroque (WSHU – syndicated) A weekly radio program featuring beloved and appealing music composed in the Baroque era  and the years leading up to it. Hosted by Suzanne Bona.

The Well-Tempered Baroque (WWFM) A survey of music from the Baroque era. Hosted by Lewis Baratz.

STREAMING

Boston Baroque Radio A live-stream of recordings from Boston Baroque.

The Boston Early Music Channel (WCRB – also available over-the-air locally) The color, excitement, and discovery of early music.

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Use What You Have

Photo credit: Marin Currie

Photo credit: Marin Currie

 

Second in our series of guest articles marking Early Music Month

By Anne Timberlake

Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can

    — Arthur Ashe

I have this quote taped to the door of my studio. That’s out of character, because inspirational quotes — Dream big! Reach for the stars! — make me itchy. Often they represent endpoints, telling you where to go without telling you how to get there. And an endpoint with no plan is the opposite of good teaching — and good learning.

But Ashe’s quote is different. In three sentences, Ashe assures us that everyone can learn and everyone can grow — every single one of us, without exception — and what’s more, he tells you how to do it.

Each of the quote’s three sentences is worth mulling, but lately it’s that middle one I keep coming back to.

Use what you have

As teachers, we frequently focus on pinpointing weaknesses. We figure our job is to assess what’s going wrong and why, and determine what a student needs to do to fix it. Do you need less tension in your fingers? More knowledge of the uses of different tonguing patterns? Better thumb technique?

This focus on need can be valuable, but it sometimes overwhelms what could, and should, be an equally detailed assessment of strength.

A strengths-based approach to teaching and learning pays multiple dividends.

First, a focus on strengths invites students to nurture areas in which they are already strong, rather than simply shoring up areas in which they are weak. Just because something is an area of strength does not mean it could not be further developed — and turned into an even greater asset.

As a player, I’ve spent many years trying to shore up my musical weaknesses. I worked, and continue to work, on my rhythmic precision, my reading, my harmonic understanding.

This was, and is, valuable work. But I wish it hadn’t taken me as long as it did to focus on improving my shaping, one of my areas of relative strength. Just because I was already strong didn’t mean I didn’t have room to grow.

Second, a focus on strengths allows us to harness what we — and our students — do well to help us learn more efficiently and effectively. Each student’s strengths are individual, as are each student’s weaknesses, and finding a way to apply strength to weakness can be magical.

Here are some examples:

Student A, a professional musician transitioning to the recorder, was struggling with overblowing. Student A had an excellent ear and the ability to adjust his blowing to match pitch. We developed a practice plan involving matching pitch with a tuner to help A accustom himself to the recorder’s optimal airflow.

Student B, a five-year-old girl learning recorder for the first time, was struggling with hand position and did not enjoy having her positioning corrected. B was highly articulate and eager to communicate her knowledge. We spent several weeks having B “be the teacher,” instructing me and her mother in the proper way to hold a recorder, improving her own positioning in the process.

Student C was not a natural improviser, and ornamentation was initially daunting. But C was extremely hardworking and ferociously organized. Together, C and I developed a set of “rules” for ornamentation and outlined a step-by-step process, allowing her to use her strengths in task analysis and process implementation to work toward successfully going off-book.

What strengths do you and your students have? How have you recently accessed your strengths, or helped someone to use what they have?

Find this article and more of Anne Timberlake’s writing on her blog.

Recorder player and teacher Anne Timberlake has appeared across the United States performing repertoire from Bach to 21st-century premieres to Celtic tunes. She is a founding member of the ensemble Wayward Sisters, specializing in music of the early Baroque. In addition to teaching private, group and online recorder lessons, Anne has coached through Indiana University’s Pre-College Recorder Program, the San Francisco Early Music Society, the Amherst Early Music Festival, Virginia Baroque Performance Institute, Mountain Collegium, and for numerous ARS chapters. Anne currently resides in St. Louis, MO. 

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