Loren Ludwig talks about how a viol player got interested in creating a singning program at Amherst.
Over the last year, Emily Eagen and I and the AEM executive committee have been working to plan the Ensemble Singing Intensive (ESI), a week-long program for singers who want to focus on one-on-a-part ensemble singing. There is a vast, gorgeous repertory of one-on-a-part vocal music from the late Medieval, Renaissance, and early Baroque periods (roughly 1400-1700) that includes madrigals, chansons, masses, motets, and various sorts of partsongs. A relatively small sliver of this music gets performed by vocal ensembles, and even less of it gets performed one-on-a-part.
As a viol player, I find this situation sort of strange. When viol players get together, they play consort music--the instrumental equivalent of madrigals, motets, and partsongs (a lot of the so-called viol consort" repertory is made up of instrumental versions of English and Italian madrigals and motets). In fact, _the reason_ lots of viol players play the viol is so that they can play one-on-a-part music with each other! I _love_ playing consort music, and even though I'm not a particularly capable singer, I love singing (or trying to) one-on-a-part music.
So why isn't there more one-on-a-part singing in the United States? Of course, it's not totally unknown. There are groups like Lionheart, , New York Polyphony, and others that perform and record one-on-a-part polyphony. Also, madrigal singing is still a favorite activity of a shrinking group of dedicated enthusiasts. But given the amount of great one-on-a-part vocal polyphony that survives from centuries past--music that was designed, in most cases, to be fun to sing--why don't we hear more of it when singers congregate? There is no shortage of singers and no shortage of music!
Ensemble music making creates community among its participants and needs that community to thrive. ESI was designed to focus on one-on-a-part ensemble singing--to give singers a chance to work with like minded folks and with some amazing faculty who have lots of experience with the particular pleasures and challenges of rehearsing and performing this repertory. One-on-a-part music making, even for experienced musicians, takes practice, but it's also sort of addictive.
I'm hoping that this initiative will fill a need no other workshop addresses. There are workshops that focus on choral singing (not one-on-a-part) and Baroque music/opera (not ensemble singing), but none that really digs deep into the early music vocal repertory. I'm also hoping that ESI helps generate a sense of community among singers who love to sing the still little-known repertory of one-on-a-part early music.