Performing Medieval Music: the Medieval Women’s Choir

As you might recall, the launch for The Service of the Dead at the University Bookstore was graced by members of Seattle’s Medieval Women’s Choir raising their voices in exquisite harmony. I loved the sound and the women so much that I joined the choir in September!

So during the darkening days of autumn I was buoyed by the rehearsals for our join-choirChristmas concert, Monday nights becoming beacons of light, laughter, song, and camaraderie. Our performance in St. James Cathedral on the first evening in December was truly a magical experience for me. Our voices soared, while  musicians accompanied our voices with lively harp, vielle, and percussion. Such a gorgeous venue, and we received a standing ovation at the end. Icing on the cake! (Photo is from a past performance by the choir.)

I’m hooked. I cannot wait for rehearsals to resume in January.

And what a fabulous way to dive into the topic of medieval music. Our choir director, Eric Mentzel, is not only a specialist in early music, but a gifted and congenial musical coach; he is an associate professor of voice at the University of Oregon. Even when he’s correcting us, he inspires laughter and ease. My two favorite quotes from recent rehearsals: “Sing as if we’ve been singing this together in the convent for 40 years”; and, when instructing us in how to build on repetitions in a melisma*,“never repeat, insist.” So evocative. Marian Seibert, soloist and rehearsal director when Eric isn’t available is equally warm and humorous, even when drilling us.

Here’s a link to the choir website if you’d like to learn more about it:

6a21f0cfc30f69e020fcd0de044fe169And, yes, I’m sure that as I learn more I will discover a character just waiting to step into York Minster and raise his? her? voice. The minster choir would have been male, but perhaps the nuns of Clementhorpe Priory…

For now, I’m simply enjoying the experience.

Serendipity: This explanation of the medieval origins of the Christmas carol was just posted on the British Library blog!

I welcome recommendations regarding books/articles on medieval music. And if you’re in Seattle in March, come hear us!

* A melisma is a run of notes, quickly sung, on one syllable of text.

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