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ISSUE 119 VOL 11 PUBLISHED 2/24/2006

First year lends voice in Early Music Singers concert

By Hannah Woldum
Contributing Writer

Friday, February 24, 2006

Last Monday night in Urness Recital Hall the Early Music Singers (EMS) gave its first post-Interim concert, featuring songs from both Medieval Spain and 14th-century France and Italy. Directed by Professor Gerald Hoekstra, EMS is a chamber group of about 16-18 singers that sings music of the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods.

Member Kirstine Wynn ’06, who did not perform in the concert because she was abroad during Interim, explained the appeal of EMS: "As we learn and perform some of the most beautiful music ever written, we get to learn a bit about how it developed and what roles it played in the societies in which it arose."

The first half of the program featured music that might have been sung along the medieval pilgrimage route that led to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela (St. James). All but one song came from either the 12th century Codex Calixtinus, which holds some of the earliest polyphonic pieces, or the 13th century Cantigas de Santa Maria, a collection of monophonic music devoted to the Virgin Mary.

Most of the songs featured either two female or two male soloists. "Santa Maria amar," one of the pieces from the Cantigas, stood out with its lovely trade-off of clear soprano voices. The lively and energetic "Non sofre Santa Maria," also from the Cantigas, featured male soloist Blaise Douros ’07 and told the comical story of a stolen chop of meat that revealed itself by jumping around in a trunk after a group of pilgrims asked the Virgin Mary to find it for them.

The second half of the concert featured the more dissonant and angular French Ars Nova music, such as Guillaume de Machaut’s fluctuating "Je puis trop bien." Niccolo da Parugia’s "I’son tuo, donna," an Italian "balata" in which both male and female voices sang the same text, offered a back-and-forth banter between two lovers.

Two songs showcased the velle, recorders, and a harp, all medieval instruments.

"I don't think the ensemble has ever sung as well as we did Monday night," said soloist, Darin Riedel ’08.

One of the female soloists in Monday’s concert, Sydney Freedman ’09, is not actually a member of EMS because first year students cannot try out for the ensemble, but Hoekstra allowed her to rehearse with the group during interim. She offered a unique perspective on the group and on early music in general.

"I was born blind," she said, explaining that she was born three months early with Retinopathy of Prematurity, known as ROP, a defect in some premature infants that occurs when the retinas detach. At about sixth months she underwent surgery, but it was unsuccessful; the doctors found that her optic nerves were dysfunctional.

"Being blind has made me very aware of sound," she explained. At the age of seven, she tried out for the Phoenix Girls Choir (she is from Scottsdale, Arizona) and got in. After that, she sang in her school choirs and took voice lessons when she was old enough. She is blessed with the gift of perfect pitch.

Freedman has had to learn music mostly by ear and memorize it. "There is Braille music but it’s a very scarce resource," Freedman said. At Monday’s EMS concert, Sydney held a Braille copy of the text and the concert order, but she was on her own for the actual music. When asked about the difficulties of entries and cut-offs, she explained that she can both hear and feel them.

Freedman first became interested in EMS because of her general interest in early music. She was only five or six years old when she first heard Gregorian chant and fell in love with it. She explained that her interest in music is probably emphasized because of her blindness.

" Sound and its relationship to emotion is very important to me," she said, because "music amplifies words and expresses things that word can’t."

Freedman referred to music as a higher form of speaking, and she explained that studying music theory has allowed her to understand why certain chords produce certain feelings in her.

A music history major, Sydney hopes to be part of a small early music ensemble in the future and sing as a cantor at church. She is also very interested in teaching—she has tutored other students in Spanish during both high school and college.

If time permits, she also hopes to major in Medieval Studies and Spanish. "Language and music go together," she said. She doesn’t plan on letting her blindness get in the way of that.

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