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Early music in amateur choirs?

I am currently working on a syllabus for an upper level undergraduate music history course on the revival of early vocal music from 1900 to present. I would like to include a unit on early music in present-day amatuer choirs and also in choirs in educational settings (anything from primary to post-secondary). I am having trouble, though, finding readings that would be appropriate to assign to the class. I found one article that gets to the heart of the issue, but unfortunately it is in German (it's Christifried Brödel, “Aufführungspraxis alter Musik für Laienchöre,” Musik und Kirche 73, no. 2 (2003): 106–14). If any of you know of any good resources on this topic (in English, preferably), I would love to hear of them.
Jacob Sagrans
Ph.D. Student in Musicology
McGill University, Schulich School of Music
555 Sherbrooke Street West
Montreal, QC H3A 1E3
Replies (2): Threaded | Chronological
on April 13, 2013 4:35pm
This is a wonderful topic. Early music is a fantastic source for amateur choirs, a great way to learn tuning, a wonderful way to learn style, and a great way to earn languages. To be honest, the Germans really have a corner on this market! When I studied in Germany, I was amazed at how amateur choirs sang early music. I suspect that there are many more articles on the topic in German. Wilhelm Ehmann was one of the leaders in the 1950s and 60s in the "Laienchor" movement, and passionately commited to the very topic you discuss.
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on April 14, 2013 5:14pm
Hi, Jacob.  I think that maybe the problem is that the earliest imptus toward reconsidering the importance of "early" music came from those interested in early instruments and early instrumental music, not from singers.  This is going back to a little over a century ago, when Arnold Dolmetsch got interested in old (18th century) instruments that he found in attics, and was curious about how they were played and what they sounded like.  And when pianist Wanda Landowska came to realize that Bach (and many others) didn't write their music for the piano, but for the harpsichord, so maybe that instrument wasn't as "primitive" as pianists were in the habit of thinking of it.  So the real breakthrough was realizing that things WERE different!  How much different would only come out after much further research.
Singers, on the other hand, were perfectly happy to assume that good singing was good singing, and that there was only one way to sing that was "proper" for ALL music of ALL time periods.  And you could hear that assumption in the sets of recordings that were made to illustrate early music, like "Masterpieces of Music Before 1800," sung with full vibrato and a "bel canto" sound that owed more to Wagnerian requirements than to the small ensembles and small performance venues that were common in the baroque.  Even New York Pro Musica, the first full-time professional early music ensemble in America, had specialists playing early instruments, but singers who were quite excellent but could just as well be singing opera roles (except for their use of countertenors).
So what you're really looking for, I think, is books and articles on Performance Practice.  There's one in particular, long out of pring I believe that presented the shocking thought that guess what, there really IS  problem, since neither singers nor instrumentalists interpreted the dots on the page in the same way that conservatory students in the late 19th century did, and that yes, it might actually be worthwhile to investigate the differrences!  Unfortunately I can't recall the name of that book (a very slim volume), or the author.  And another, by Robert Donnington, on early music performance practice, is a bit out of date (copyright in 1969), but is so comprehensive that it's worth tracking down in a university library.
So I would suggest looking in New Grove for an appropriate article--perhaps "Early Music" or "Performane Practice," and then looking carefully through the bibliography.  The languages of the titles should tell you the language of the articles or books.
All the best,
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