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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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