Luther College Chips

Collegium Musicum explores Renaissance sound

Forrest Stewart (‘19) and Olivia Benson (‘18) play the recorder.

Forrest Stewart (‘19) and Olivia Benson (‘18) play the recorder.

Photo Bureau | Kien Dao (‘20)

Photo Bureau | Kien Dao (‘20)

Forrest Stewart (‘19) and Olivia Benson (‘18) play the recorder.

Kristen Wuerl, Staff Writer

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Collegium Musicum Renaissance and Baroque Ensemble (RBE) is an older ensemble on Luther’s campus, but it is not as old as the music it performs. Collegium Musicum is Luther’s early music ensemble that performs music from the Renaissance and Baroque periods of the 14th through 18th centuries. Collegium performed a spring concert in the Noble Recital Hall on April 11.

Collegium has a long tradition at Luther. The earliest recorded date of a Collegium performance on campus was on Nov. 19, 1974 when the ensamble performed in Koren.

Instructor in Music Kathy Reed is the current director of the ensemble, playing the harpsichord on some pieces and directing the choral works. Currently the ensemble is comprised of 4 student instrumentalists, four community member instrumentalists, and 12 student singers.

“Renaissance and Baroque music hasn’t always been so popular,” Reed said. “The more we learn about it, the more we find ways to bring it out in performances. In a way, it’s new music because it’s unfamiliar. As soon as you take a more historically appropriate approach [to performing this music] you find wild, interesting, and compelling things about it.”

Collegium showcased these features of Renaissance and Baroque music at its concert. The concert began with instrumental music performed by small student Baroque ensembles.

Students played a total of four pieces. Two were written by notable composers George Frideric Handel and Johann Sebastian Bach.

Instrumental ensemble members played pieces on both period and contemporary instruments. According to Reed, certain instruments were popular during the Renaissance and Baroque periods, but faded after those time periods.

These include the recorder, the harpsichord, and the viola da gamba, an instrument similar to a contemporary cello. The second half of Collegium’s concert featured both instrumental and vocal music, all of which was composed by Josquin des Prez, one of the most notable composers of the 15th and 16th centuries.

“[Renaissance and Baroque music] is extremely complex and challenging,” Reed said. “The meter changes a lot between duple and triple, and there are syncopated rhythms. You can’t ever just settle down and get in a rut because things have changed so much.”

Collegium co-officer Erin Steward (‘17) enjoys playing and singing this early music.

“I like [Renaissance and Baroque music] because it presents a challenge,” Steward said. “It’s pretty incredible to see what is written on a page and to learn what someone from that time period would have known to do with what is written.”

Steward, a vocalist and harpsichordist in the ensemble, found one aspect of Collegium to be particularly challenging. She reads harpsichord music in a style called continuo, a style not written for most modern string instruments.

“The harpsichordist is given the music’s bass line along with some numbers that represent chords,” Steward said. “It is up to the harpsichordist to know what chords to play when, how to line up with the other instrumentalist playing the bass line, and to understand what the melodic lines are doing.”

Reed agrees with Steward in respect to how independent each part in a Renaissance and Baroque ensemble can be.

“There is a high level of community and independence [among ensemble members],” Reed said. “You are playing with other people but the group is small, and there are very few people on a part. Each person needs to stretch him or herself to hold up their end of the music.”

In addition to Collegium’s formal spring concert, the ensemble frequently plays in churches and at Java John’s.

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