Email this articleE-mail this story  Discuss this articleWrite letter to editor  Discuss this articleOrder a classified ad

The music of rebirth

Jennifer Geens
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Mar 11/05) - Music that had to be sung in secret at the time it was written will ring out loud in St. Patrick's Church this weekend.

Lorne Gushue, Yellowknife Choral Society president, sings during the Renaissance rehearsal at St Patrick's Church.

One of the pieces in the Yellowknife Choral Society's Renaissance: Words and Music of the Elizabethan Age is the Byrd mass.

English composer William Byrd, who wrote his Catholic mass after the split of the Church of England, when English Catholics had to worship in secret.

Margo Nightingale, the choir's conductor, gets a kick out of the fact that there'll be four soloists singing it in a Catholic church for the general public.

"It's bringing it around to what I think Byrd would have ideally hoped for, if not in his lifetime, then in someone's life," she said.

As winter wanes, the Yellowknife Choral Society's spring concert celebrates the music of the Renaissance.

Literally meaning "re-birth," the Renaissance happened during the 16th and 17th centuries in Europe and was an era of advances in literature, science, music and art, following the intellectual stagnation of the middle ages. In England it flourished under the reign of Elizabeth I.

Though they will perform what is probably the best known Renaissance piece - Allegri's Miserere mei deus, most often sung during Holy Week - the choir will also do other, lesser-known songs.

"People may have one idea of what Renaissance music is, but there is an incredible diversity to the music. With the program we've chosen, people will have a chance to experience that," said Nightingale.

The first half will focus on the sacred music of the era and the latter half will feature secular selections. As well as the Byrd piece, there will be music from Spain, France and Italy, as well as a song by a modern American composer that sets Shakespeare to music.

Arlene Bell, Sophie Leger, Shad Turner and Shawn Mattas will perform solos and a few of the pieces will have recorder accompaniment.

Though they have tackled Handel's Messiah in the past and created African rhythms at their concert last spring, the Renaissance choral arrangements have challenged the choir to step out of its comfort zone.

Nightingale said the music of the era has melody lines layered over melody lines, creating an added level of difficulty.

"There are four or more tunes going on at the same time. It's like having somebody sing row, row, row, your boat over happy birthday, over something else," she said.

The layered melodies create a harmony that's both beautiful and complex.

"It's a new sound to work with," she said.

The Yellowknife Choral Society performs Renaissance: Words and Music from the Elizabethan Age beginning at 8 p.m., Friday and Saturday at St. Patrick's Church.