All my Music History Dreams Come True!
By Johanna Rehbaum, Concentus member
It was my junior year in college as a music major, and I was taking what everyone knew was the hardest class in the major: music history. The class was notorious for having difficult professors—my friend had to resubmit a paper once because she had used the phrase “from whence” when actually, said the professor, the proper usage was simply, “whence.” (The other professor, on the other hand, believed with all her heart that she was Hildegaard von Bingen in a previous life, and was known to preach in chapel, on occasion, from Hildy’s perspective. I’m quite proud of my liberal arts education.) Despite the class’s reputation, I was looking forward to digging in and learning about the history of the development of music.
A major aspect of the class was what my friend and I liked to call “listening parties.” We’d sneak snacks into the music library, grab all of the week’s listening homework from the reserve desk, and hunker down to listen to some early music. Though some was tedious and strange, much was glorious and entrancing. Week after week, the listening room filled with the sound of Gregorian chant, fa-las, and madrigals, with the sweet tunes of Hildegaard (the actual person, not my professor), Josquin des Prez, Purcell, Palestrina. Together with my friend, who played principal flute in the band and orchestra to my principal oboe, we pored over the music, falling harder and harder in love with the choral pieces, especially. Though we were devoted to our respective woodwinds (and delighted when we got to the music featuring the earliest ancestors of them), we both had a harbored desire to sing this gorgeous choral music, with all its open harmonies and unfamiliar voice leading.
As an instrumental music major, too invested in my various instrumental ensembles to sing in a choir as well, I never thought it would happen. After I graduated from college, I didn’t imagine I would ever be in an ensemble that would be interested in this particular early music niche. But then I found myself singing in a lot of choirs, and while I had always been able to always carry a tune and sight-sing a harmony, my voice gained maturity and confidence. I took a chance when I moved to Rochester and auditioned for the impressive women’s choir I had found online. To my surprise and delight I was invited to join the alto section of Concentus, and I have been blessed to make beautiful music with this amazing group of women for the past four and a half years.
At the beginning of this semester, Gwen, our conductor, said, “For those of you who like early music, I’d like a small group to sing this piece…” Me. ME. I will do it! I want to sing it! Along with a handful of other women who also like early music, we sang through Salve Regina Caelorum by Guillaume Dufay. And before my very ears, all my music history dreams came true. I was transported back to that listening room, full of vinyl records, snacks, and the longing of a couple woodwind players to be able to participate in making such beautiful music. And here I was, doing it, along with the women of Concentus. Maybe I’m melodramatic, but after years of loving this music (so much, in fact, that my friend and I made a “Best of Music History I” mix CD at the end of the semester), it truly was a dream come true to stand on stage with a small group from Concentus and sing Dufay’s Salve Regina Caelorum. Thank you, Gwen and Concentus, for making all my music history dreams come true!