"Dangerous music" played at Reed College
During the English Renaissance, not all of the music composed was allowed to be performed in public. But this didnt stop groups of primarily women in the Elizabethan Catholic Church from performing some of these works – such as The Mass for Three Voices by William Byrd, and other motets and sacred songs.
This is what a hundred people learned when they attended a workshop in the new Performing Arts building at Reed College, on the afternoon of Thursday, June 5.
The instructor for this special program was Byrd scholar Dr. Kerry McCarthy, a Reed Alumnus (class of 1997), who has returned to the school as a two-year Visiting Scholar, teaching music history.
Today's workshop is about music from the English Renaissance; music from the time of Shakespeare, McCarthy told THE BEE.
The music she was discussing and would be performed by the group In Mulieribus (the Latin word for women) and was written in post-Reformation England, which made the sheet music politically sensitive documents at the time. So much so, that anyone caught with the music would likely be arrested.
This is why the music they we are doing today is music that people sang behind closed doors and shuttered windows, in the privacy of their living rooms, not in cathedrals, McCarthy said. So, this is music for normal people; this is something I want to bring back to the community.
The free workshop coincided with the schools Alumni Weekend, which drew many former students. But, current students and members of the community were also invited to attend.
This workshop is open to anyone who can read music. And, Im doing something special at the end of the workshop, McCarthy said as she held up unusual-appearing sheet music. At the end, we will be reading the original music notation preserved from the 16th century. So in a sense, well be doing a little bit of musical time travel.
As attendees came in and filled the combined classroom and rehearsal hall, each was given a syllabus, and sheet music.
Reed Professor of Music Virginia Hancock opened the workshop, welcoming the attendees. But first, instead of diving into the lecture, McCarthy joined the seven-woman professional group, In Mulieribus, to perform examples of English Renaissance music.
Then, McCarthy began her talk, Hidden Voices of Renaissance England. She explained how music, such as Boyds, was quietly and discreetly published in partbooks, on a single sheet of paper. This sheet music was distributed through friends among the nobility and gentry in the Elizabethan Catholic community, to be sung at clandestine Mass celebrations.
It wasnt long until the group was led by the soprano and alto singers through a rehearsal of Boyds Three-Part Mass, led by In Mulieribus co-founder and Artistic Director Anna Song. After the workshop returned from dinner, students of this master class rehearsed singing Byrd's Visita quaesumus Domine, a fifth-century hymn.
And to top off the workshop, they all sang Visita quaesumus, but this time, as promised, from a facsimile of the original sheet music.
In the end, McCarthy said that the workshop was important to her for more than intellectual reasons. It is essential to involve people in performing this music. Many people in Portland go to attend concerts. We have an active arts community, and many professional performers.
But, I think its so important to involve the community in making music, McCarthy continued. Not just to consume it. Music is something for more than which you just buy a ticket. Music is something you make. Thats really the point behind this workshop.
Learn more about In Mulieribus by visiting their website: www.inmulieribus.org .
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