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Over the weekend of October 8-11, 42 students and 16 faculty coaches gathered on Wellesley College’s gorgeous campus to celebrate early music with a wide variety of classes and a stellar concert. There were four periods of classes per day, two before lunch and two after.
Recorder players predominated, as usual – Amherst Early Music evolved from recorder workshops, and has always primarily served the country’s huge network of amateur recorder groups. Players from all over New England turned out to learn from a brilliant team of coaches, including the illustrious Marion Verbruggen, one of the great stars of the recorder world, who came from the Netherlands to teach at the weekend. Verbruggen taught two sections of a recorder master class, in which advanced students receive a lesson in the presence of their fellow-students. (ed. View video clips of Marion's class here!) Other recorder faculty included Amherst Early Music favorites Valerie Horst and Pat Petersen, who also directed ensembles in 15th-century notation. Over the course of the weekend, recorder players worked on their technique, their ensemble skills, and broadened their range of repertoire. Two special topics classes examined the generation of composers contemporaneous with Josquin Desprez and the generation of ‘Josquin’s Heirs.’
The second core of any Amherst Early Music workshop is the sizable crew of viol players, drawn by a faculty including Wendy Gillespie, Sarah Mead, Larry Lipnik, and Wellesley College’s own Laura Jeppesen. Amherst’s association with Wellesley started in 2009 with a workshop run jointly with the Viola da Gamba Society – New England in celebration of viol-playing Wellesley alumnae.
Reed and brass players – collectively called the ‘Louds,’ after the distinction between loud and soft consorts in the late Middle Ages – had classes throughout the day in mixed ensembles coached by Tom Zajac, Dan Stillman, and AEM director Marilyn Boenau. Cathy Stein, AEM’s administrator, taught a section for beginning reed players. Flute players were also well-served, with a Renaissance flute consort coached by Eric Haas and Baroque flute ensembles taught by Wellesley faculty member Suzanne Stumpf. Tenor Aaron Sheehan, who also teaches at Wellesley, coached several singers in Baroque repertoire, along with harpsichord coach Frances Fitch.
One of the features that makes Amherst Early Music unique among American early music organizations is the sheer range of musical interests it serves. Music for classes came from all over Europe and five centuries. Many classes focused on Renaissance polyphony, but Wendy Gillespie directed a Medieval ensemble and in the early afternoon there were several Baroque ensembles with basso continuo.
Given the wealth of talent brought by students and teachers alike, it is unsurprising that the capstone of the weekend was Sunday’s concert, A Musical Banquet. The faculty, performing to an audience mostly of fellow musicians, combined virtuosity with an engaging sense of fun. We hope to see you at Wellesley next year!