Renaissance Music at ‘berg: A Brief Review

We are into the final third of the semester, and all the work the students have been putting into their performance courses is bearing fruit. Concerts galore! Free concerts, on campus, no less. What are you waiting for?

Tonight the spotlight was on Collegium Musicum, an ensemble that allows students to explore music from the Renaissance and Baroque. It is amazing to think that we have this semester eleven talented students on campus who are sufficiently interested in this type of music (“old and dead” to many) to dedicate their Thursday afternoons to weekly practice, under Dr. Ted Connor‘s expert guidance.

Yesterday’s concert was big, electric, exploring (and exploding into) the space of Egner Chapel in search of optimal acoustic effects, with repertoire that roamed far and wide through space and time. The approach to today’s concert could not be more different: small, intimate, cosy and warm, inviting the listener into the performer’s space, and with a clear focus on a specific time and place (European composers who lived between 1492 and 1648), but equally satisfying for the listener. This was high quality playing and singing, and every now and then I felt myself transported somewhere far away from the twenty-first century.

The group was seated in the acoustic sweet spot, at the head of the chapel (my church terminology in English is not great, somebody tell me what that part is called in proper English, please), with the audience sitting right near them. It was great to hear and feel the music, as if  we were in somebody’s living room where a group of friends just wanted to have some musical fun.

The focus on this specific repertoire still allowed for a lot of variety: some songs were performed with all singers, others as solos with the bass viola da gamba and lute. There was an a capella quartet, a couple of instrumentals and throughout different combinations of voices in beautiful melodies that wove around each other, and changes of instrumentation (with lots of tuning, since they all play period instruments and gut-strings need a looooot of tuning).

The lush sound of the songs with larger formations notwithstanding, for me the outstanding moments were two more intimate ones: “No grave for woe” (Philip Rosseter), and the almost introspective “Fantasia No. 1” (Giovanni Bassano). The first tugged at the heartstrings with such desperate sadness, the latter was performed so delicately it became transparent.

As a flute player, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the flute in its one outing tonight being buried under the other sounds, and I hope to hear more of it in future concerts (if the Collegium is taking requests, here is one!). And perhaps it was a conscious choice not to include the words of the texts, so the audience had to focus on the music per se, but I always like to have a glance at the lyrics before the song starts. Nevertheless, this was overall another fine instance of the music program at Muhlenberg doing something fantastic: bringing music back to life, and inviting an audience to share in a wonderful, intimate experience.

 

Advertisements

Choir Music at ‘berg: A Brief Review

 

If you are a member of the Muhlenberg College community and you weren’t in Egner Memorial Chapel on Friday night, what on earth were you doing that was worth missing this fantastic concert from the Women’s Ensemble and the Chamber Choir? The work that Dr. Chris Jackson has done in three semesters with these two groups is phenomenal, and this evening the students showed how versatile they are as performers. If you weren’t there, you missed out BIG TIME. (Disclaimer: Chris and I are in the same “cohort” of 2017 incoming faculty, I may be a bit biased, but it’s still darn good choir conducting and programming.)

During the concert both choirs made clever use of the chapel’s physical space, singing from different parts of the chapel to highlight change, transformation, and searching journeys that formed the theme of “Pilgrimage” tying all the pieces together. “Statements” by Hans-Jørgen Nielsen progressed over a number of repeats from the back of the chapel to the front, for instance.

The programme ranged wide in styles, times and space: from a motet by Hildegard von Bingen and more recent work using her words, to Gustav Holst “Hymn of the Travelers”, to “Knowee” by Stephen Leek, based on an Australian myth and featuring extended techniques such as throat-singing. Many of the pieces have harmonies that deviate considerably from the average western traditional music, but the students didn’t miss a note. (If they did, I never noticed, so that’s alright 😉 )

For me personally the highlight was the series “Behind the Caravan: Songs of Hâfez” (Abbie Betinis), sung with such intensity and emotion! The viola (expertly played by Ms. Margaret Jackson) and percussion (Prof. Thoma) added just the right touch to transport us all to some mysterious place within a Middle Eastern context, without becoming Orientalist. In particular “boatpeople” did something to me that I cannot express in words– the closest I come is that I touched the universe. If the ensembles are taking requests, I’d love to hear this one again, sooner rather than later!

Creepy Crawlies: Survival tips if you’re caught indoors

To: Creepy Crawlies

From: InInEx Club (Intrepid Indoor Explorers)  (motto: “Because it’s there!”)

Safety tips for indoor explorers

A small team of our intrepid insect and arachnid explorers has been exploring the indoors area of the human dwelling. They have, at risk of life and limb (mainly life), assessed the dangers and possibilities for successfully surviving an indoor encounter in flat Nr. 1. Thanks to the courageous behaviour of these heroic crawlies, we now have a much better understanding of the situation indoors and can offer some advice on how you stand a chance to get out of there alive. We await further news on the other flats in the dwelling and will update you as soon as we can.

What we know: Continue reading

Newsletter 2 from Backyard Wildlife College

“More than just fluffy bunnies”

(Backyard Wildlife College, Allentown PA, est. 2017)

Newsletter 2 (July 2018)

Hello all, and welcome to newsletter 2!

The College has lots of exciting news about new arrivals spotted on campus!

IMG_6296

Ms. (or Mr.?) Fox was seen walking through the back alley about a week ago, and again a week later running across campus pursued by the Crow Airforce Acrobatic Team. The College has not received further news about Fox’s intention to join the Division of Furry Creatures, but we are open for negotiation. We realize that increasing species diversity may bring tensions, in particular when carnivores join the faculty or will serve in functions already occupied by current members, but as our motto makes abundantly clear, we are not in the business of enhancing the “fluffy bunny view” of nature.

Speaking of fluffy bunnies, a Visiting Assistant Rabbit has been appointed! Following several early morning campus visits, Continue reading

Note to Creepy Crawlies Division

To: Creepy Crawly Creatures Day and Evening Schools

From: Council of Fauna, Allentown Backyard Wildlife College (BWC)

Concerning your relations with humans:

The College kindly but urgently requests you to stop trespassing on human property, and in particular in the kitchen of flat Nr. 1, where ants have been found holding foraging labs. The team leaders have been notified that the nuclear option is on the countertop and fully deployed. Members of the Ants Department should refrain from seeking entrance, for their own safety and that of their colonies. We remind you that the College does not offer an “Indoor Ants” programme, and it never will.

Furthermore, there has been a request from the College’s human benefactors for the Mosquito Aerial Programme’s buzz training and target landing trials to take place away from the college perimeter where it meets the human dwelling. Other targets for practice are available elsewhere.

While we all appreciate the Creepy Crawlies Division is numerically the largest and among the oldest parts of any BWC, and that Allentown is the new home of the brown marmorated stink bug, that should not give the Crawlies license to display such inconsiderate behavior towards others. It sours the relations with the off-campus community and gives the entire College a bad name, and destroys the hard work from Furry and Feathered Creatures in community engagement.

rabbit

Professor Bunny captured here in the glamour role of Most Favoured Furry.

The arachnids should under no circumstances enter the human dwelling. There is a zero-tolerance policy because it is apparently impossible to tell which of you might be poisonous. We have been reliably informed that every single one of you found inside will be eliminated. Even though everyone at the College knows that none of you are dangerous to humans, we regret that no amount of education seems to help with this case of rabid arachnophobia.

firefly on a book

A firefly taking part in the “Lighten up” action, providing much needed reading light to members of the off-campus community.

In more upbeat news, participants in the “Outside Ants” program and “Drawn to the Light: Night-time Flight Navigation” course have been commended for their non-intrusive behavior with the human visitors to campus, and in refraining from entering the human dwelling even when the backdoor opens (with the exception of a couple of bamboozled fireflies). The College hopes that other programs and departments of the Creepy Crawlies Division will follow their example.

Newsletter from Backyard Wildlife College

“More than just fluffy bunnies”

(Backyard Wildlife College, Allentown PA, est. 2017)

Newsletter June 2018

Hello all, and welcome to the first newsletter of the Backyard Wildlife College!

As some of you may know from Twitter announcements, Backyard Wildlife College (BWC) is in the process of hiring a new Visiting Assistant Rabbit following the disappearance of the colleague of Professor Bunny. This position may be converted into a tenured one if the new partnership succeeds in attracting funding for the creation of postdoctoral positions for baby rabbits.

rabbit lying on the lawn

Professor Bunny enjoying a spot of sunshine

While it is impossible to get a grip on the current number of faculty in the Squirrel Department, the College is fairly confident that shortly there will be a number of postdoc positions added there, too, Continue reading

Mysterious events in the Backyard

I was all ready to publish the first newsletter from Backyard Wildlife College, but that is now pushed aside by the breaking news from this morning: mysterious massacre of multiple members of the Creepy Crawlies Division and vandalization of College infrastructure. This morning, it was discovered that the largest pitcher of the carnivorous Nepenthes (Sanguinea) plant has been destroyed, its contents dropped to the floor.

img_6164

Pitcher of Nepenthes plant destroyed…

Upon closer inspection, the mystery deepened, with several ants and one arachnid left dead on the leaves.

Victims of the events found on the plant; detailed picture of spider and ant on the left available on request.

The Backyard Wildlife College welcomes any information that may help shed light on these mysterious events.

The “Outdoor Ants” Program is continuing as usual; the Arachnid Department is rescheduling some classes and will be in touch with its students about these changes. The newsletter will be released in the coming week.