Early English Voicescapes

By Вen Li

Early English anthems, madrigals and part-songs may be rare in Calgary but it is that infrequency that drives the artists of VoiceScapes to sing the music again today.

"This concert is based on music from old England, music which would have been sung in courts of the sixteenth and seventeenth century," says Julie Harris. "After dinner, some people would take out musical instruments and play. It was expected that well-educated people could sing and read music."

Music of Olde England features anthems and popular tunes from Shakespeare’s time. Accompanying Harris are Jerald Fast, Christina Jahn and Paul Grindlay, all members of the VoiceScapes professional music collective created in 2000. Various other Calgary and Edmonton artists, including organist Neil Cockburn, will join the four artists in Music of Olde England.

Unlike music today, old English music was written as much for the enjoyment of the performers as the audience. For that reason, one on a part–where each performer has a unique role in the musical conversation–was common.

"It’s a very different sound when you have one on a part," says Jahn. "Lightness, clarity and expressiveness all come out more than in a choir."

Harris says that some listeners may be surprised to hear old choir favourites where the voices of many sing a part written for one. Choral sections, along with musical accompaniment, were found in the original works.

VoiceScape drew many of their selections–some of which were written in old-hand facsimile–from the University of Calgary and University of Toronto archives. Selection of the pieces, which started in January 2001, came according to what was appropriate to the Shakespearean theme and the artists’ talents.

"It happened in fits and starts," says Jahn. "We knew broadly what we wanted, and carefully picked out verses and anthems."

They each have 20 years of choral experience and were drawn to Baroque music because it fits their vocal talents. The group works without a musical director, which Jahn says brings out the best of each member’s talents.

"We were drawn to Baroque because it has a large repertoire that suits our voices," says Harris. "For us it comes pretty naturally."

"The fast-moving music uses our flexibility and lightness of our voices," added Jahn.

"We enjoy letting people hear music from a long time ago," says Harris. "Calgary doesn’t have a lot of people who are specialized in it; people who really do it, not just dabble in it."

Music of Olde England will take place on Saturday, Sept. 21at Christ Church Elbow Park 3602 8th St SW.

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