The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Renaissance Choir Sacramento
An Early English Christmas - December 15, 2012
by Dick Frantzreb
This concert took place in St. Andrew’s in the Highlands Episcopal Church, a small church with a big name, but one clearly loved by its congregants. Today it was brightly lit and felt a cozy refuge on a rainy Saturday afternoon. By the time the concert started, it was almost full.
Renaissance Choir Sacramento is an ambitious group, only a year old and very much in a development stage: you may have seen their recruitment ads in the “Ticket” section of The Sacramento Bee in recent months. Founder and Director Dr. Lee T. Lovallo teaches in the Department of Arts & Humanities at National University, and his scholarship and love for the music of the Renaissance were abundantly evident in this concert. The singers are 11 in number, counting Dr. Lovallo, who sings tenor while directing. They were joined for this performance by three instrumentalists – a “consort of viols,” (the viol being a precursor of the violin).
After the singers entered quietly from the center aisle, all dressed in black, they began with a unison chant, alternating between men and women, each section preceded by the ringing of a bell. The next piece was from the instrumentalists alone. It seemed to me that they were not professional musicians, but well rehearsed, and I felt that they provided very pleasant listening. The same could be said for the singers. As small as the group was, they produced an overall good blend throughout the program.
(Click here to open the concert program in a new window.)
This concert was very much an educational experience. Nearly all the music was from the 15th or 16 centuries, and the program notes made interesting reading. Of special interest, though, were the readings performed by Dr. Kathy Rodgers, a Professor of English at American River College. Her first text (Luke 2:1-14) was from the 14th century Wycliffe Bible, the first translation of the Bible into English. I believe the language could be described as Middle English, and it was fascinating to follow along with her in the program and note the unusual spelling and pronunciation of words from that period. Later she read from the Tyndale Bible – more unusual spellings, but a much more contemporary pronunciation.
The singing also required a distinctive period pronunciation of English, and it surely must have presented a significant challenge to the choir: often singing familiar words in a very unfamiliar way. But that effort was key to the authenticity of this concert, underscoring its educational value. Along that line, the performance of “The Coventry Carol” is surely the most true to the original that I’ve ever heard, and it was a highlight for me, even though I had to use the program to follow the text. Likewise, I was glued to the program for nearly all the other musical selections (most performed a cappella, by the way), fascinated by unfamiliar words, as well as familiar words pronounced in unfamiliar ways.
Along with the experience of making music, one could think of the Renaissance Choir Sacramento as a study group. I imagine that a lot of appeal for members, as well as for their audiences, comes from the exploration of music history.
The concert ended with the audience joining the choir in three familiar Christmas carols, mercifully with modern pronunciations. This singing capped a delightful experience for me, and I think that anyone who loves Renaissance music and history would be similarly delighted.