Singing songs of the past

Collegium Musicum treats its community to a unique experience


As soon as the audience walked into the Egner Chapel for the Collegium Musicum concert, they knew they were in for an experience unlike any other. Typically, when a concert is held in the chapel, audience members sit in the pews. However, for the Collegium concert, the audience sat on the altar with the ensemble. This helped the audience become almost part of the ensemble themselves, and it allowed for a much more intimate atmosphere for the concert.

Collegium Musicum is a unique ensemble because of the style of music that is played and the instrumentation in the ensemble. Led by musical director Dr. Ted Conner, the ensemble performs pieces from the Baroque and Renaissance time periods. While other music ensembles at Muhlenberg will sometimes perform pieces from these eras, Collegium Musicum performs pieces exclusively from these periods. To go with the style and era of the pieces, all the instrumentalists perform on period instruments. This allows for the ensemble to perform the various selections in the way that they would have originally been performed. Many of these instruments are not seen in any other ensemble, and therefore are that much more eye-catching and intriguing for those in the audience.  

These instruments sometimes resemble their modern counterparts, but they are completely accurate to the Baroque and Renaissance eras. Included in the ensemble are the tenor and bass recorders, the viola da gamba in various forms (treble, tenor, and bass), the lute and the harpsichord.

No one is conducting us, so we just have to listen to each other, and I think that really builds us as an ensemble

Collegium Musicum is smaller than some of Muhlenberg’s other music ensembles, which meant there were fewer instrumentalists and vocalists to each part. The performers had clearly put in so much effort into learning the pieces and making sure they worked well as an ensemble. They had to be completely confident in what they were playing or singing, and it was apparent that they were. Camilla Rosenfeld ’21, who plays the tenor viola da gamba in the ensemble, spoke on the difficulties and rewards of the size of the ensemble.

“I think the smaller number of parts is difficult, but I’ve learned so much because of it and I’ve had to play out more and listen to myself more,” said Rosenfeld. “Everyone, with these old instruments, is learning, so everyone is in the same boat.”

In addition, in pieces where there were both vocalists and instrumentalists, the performers did a fantastic job of balancing the vocal parts and the instrumental parts.

In several of the pieces, the vocalists had to sing chords with complicated and strange-sounding chords, and there would frequently be only one vocalist to each voice part (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass). The vocalists did a superb job of maintaining the chords and completely owning the odd notes that they had. Everyone in the ensemble did an excellent job of listening to each other to make sure that everyone was in time. Rosenfeld elaborated on how the ensemble becomes a unit during the rehearsal process and at the eventual concert.

“No one is conducting us, so we just have to listen to each other, and I think that really builds us as an ensemble,” said Rosenfeld. “We’re all paying attention to our music but we’re also listening to everyone else and making sure everyone is at the same tempo. It’s such a group ensemble. Even though Dr. Conner is the music director, he is part of the ensemble, so everyone is kind of like the music director because we’re all working together to figure out what’s going right, what’s going wrong, and what can be done better.”

Including not only the unique qualities surrounding Collegium Musicum, but musical talent as well, the ensemble itself was a huge success both in entertainment and performance technique.

There were many moments of pure musical beauty that I experienced

“I definitely felt that every person in the ensemble had a passion for what they were performing,” said Sarah Zulewski ‘22, “and it made me as a member of the audience feel just as involved in what they were creating.”

The acoustics of Egner Chapel, coupled with the way the audience was seated, all worked together in completely enveloping the audience in the sound of the ensemble and bringing out the breathtaking music the ensemble performed.

“There were many moments of pure musical beauty that I experienced,” said Zulewski, “and I felt that all of the piece selections provided a cohesive musical experience that caused a wholesome feeling of satisfaction at the end of the concert.”

The Collegium Musicum concert was a musical experience unlike any other in Muhlenberg’s wide variety of musical opportunities. It gave the audience the opportunity to be exposed to new eras of music and instruments, and they were able to become just as important to the experience as the performers themselves.

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