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Schola Musicorum showcases talent with chants

Analise Lipari | Thursday, March 8, 2007

Dressed entirely in simplistic black, Notre Dame’s Schola Musicorum performed a powerful selection of Gregorian chants Wednesday night in their latest “Abend-Musique” concert at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. The Reyes Organ and Choral Hall, housing the University’s impressively sized pipe organ, was a lovely venue for their concert, which featured a variety of pieces sung in their original Latin.

The aesthetic of the Reyes Organ Hall calls to mind images of medieval monasticism and high church services, and the music, taken from the 15th and 16th centuries, fit that theme perfectly.

The Schola Musicorum is led by Alexander Blatchley, director of the University’s Chorale, and Daniel Stowe, director of the University’s Glee Club and Symphony Orchestra. The Schola also features a number of students. The ensemble was originally formed by the University’s Department of Music in 1993 with the intent of drawing from original medieval manuscripts for their pieces. The “Abend-Musique” concert, a biannual tradition for the group, takes its name from similarly-named concerts held by 17th century German composer Dietrich Buxtehude. “Abend-Musique” literally means “Evening Music” in German and French, respectively.

The history of the Gregorian chant alone makes the Schola’s repertoire interesting for the average audience member. As the “Abend-Musique” program indicated, Gregorian chants make up the most extensive body of liturgical or ritual music in world history. In the years since Vatican II, however, they are less commonly heard, as the use of Latin has decreased in Catholic practice worldwide. Sung without musical accompaniment, the chants highlight the vocal talents of those performing them with simplicity.

The first piece performed was a selection from Psalm 90, “Introitus: Invocavit me.” Featuring a solo by Blatchley, the impressive vocals and ethereal sound of the piece both made for a strong opening to the evening’s concert. The phenomenal acoustics of the Reyes Organ Hall added to the overall strength of the vocal performances, with the full-bodied and phenomenal music emanating from the group towards the audience.

Thankfully for those audience members without an extensive background in either Gregorian chants or Latin, the concert’s program provided both the original Latin words and modern English translations of each piece. Following along with the Latin was a challenging but rewarding task, and having each piece’s words, which were inspirational scripture passages and prayers, in English translation was much appreciated.

The concert continued with further passages from Psalm 90, each with their own variety of vocal gymnastics and solid performances. Anne Siebels’ solo during the “Graduale: Angelis suis mandavit” was particularly memorable for its impressive height and range.

Other highlights included Orlande de Lassus’ joyful “Psalmus: In exitu Istrael” during the Ad Vesperas, and the concert’s final piece, “Hymnus: Te lucis ante terminum,” during the Ad Completorium, ending the evening on a rich, uplifting note.

Unfortunately for the high caliber of the performance, the Organ Hall was notably at less than full audience capacity. The idea of an evening of 15th century music might seem incomprehensible or uninteresting to the average college student, but the sheer beauty, elegance and full depth of the Gregorian chants made Wednesday’s Schola Musicorum concert something not to be missed.

The music’s evocative power leaves the audience with a rush of images and feelings. Thoughts of the opulence of pre-Reformation masses or the strict simplicity of monastic life centuries ago are inevitable when listening to such rarely-heard pieces, making concerts like the “Abend-Musique” both historical and excitingly new experiences.