Newberry Consort Young Artist Mentorship Program Participant
We had a chat with Ashley Mulcahy, our second participant in The Newberry Consort’s Young Artist Mentorship Program. Here’s what she had to say about singing Mexican convent music and her upcoming experience working with our ensemble.
NC: What’s most interesting to you about this project?
AM: This program delves into both the familiar and the unfamiliar. While many audience members will likely be familiar with the magnificent seventeenth century Venetian double choir effect that this program references, it is rare to hear seventeenth century Mexican music, yet alone music for an all-female ensemble. This lack of familiarity makes this program even more exciting because it poses so many questions. What was the sonic world of Juan de Lienas like? What was the sonic world of 17th century Mexico City like? What/who were Lienas’s sources of inspiration? That Lienas may have been an indigenous person makes room for even more questions and possibilities. It is absolutely thrilling to create and share a sound world that is so rarely experienced. Some of the pieces on the program will likely be heard for the first time since the seventeenth century! People talk about classical music as a “dying art “and complain about the same canon of repertoire being played over and over again. This kind of program makes you wonder just how much music of the past we still have to discover and how music of the distant past could shape the future of an art form.
NC: What got you interested in early music?
AM: My teacher at The University of Michigan, Professor Carmen Pelton, told me that she thought my strengths as a singer and academic interests would make me well suited to early music and encouraged me to enroll in Early Music Ensemble. I loved it! It was my first time approaching early music in a historically informed way and I felt as if I were experiencing this music for the first time, something really clicked for me. That same summer I studied early music in Italy on a fellowship from The International Institute at U of M. I went to Italy thinking that I would focus on early 18th century repertoire and left head over heels in love with the 17th century, especially Italian monody. In monody the music is absolutely subservient to the text and I came to realize that this special relationship between text and music is a big part of what makes early music so appealing to me in general. I love the process of making these musical and rhetorical decisions and the variety of colors and contrast that I can find in my singing when I let the text and harmonic framework guide me.
NC: What is special about all women’s voices in an ensemble?
We are used to women’s voices as upper voices, but an ensemble in which women sing the lowest parts as well creates all sorts or new possible colors and textures. Several of the pieces on the program encompass a huge vocal range. The ten-voice Magnificat, for example, comes to mind. The low voices on this program often sit significantly lower than alto lines in an SATB arrangement where that kind of very low tessitura would be impractical. The majority of European baroque music with similarly low tessiture was written for castrati, but this music was written exclusively for women and explores a wide range of possible vocal colors in a woman’s voice. As someone who will be singing the lowest line on a few of these pieces I’m having fun getting a taste of what it’s like to function as a bass rather than an inner voice.
NC: What do you expect to gain from this experience?
The experience of rehearsing and performing along side such esteemed colleagues is sure to help me tremendously as I navigate the transition from student to professional. Not only is this an exciting and challenging program of music but I am also looking forward to learning about all of the extra-musical aspects of performance from a group of professionals. Experience is the best teacher and I am immensely grateful to have this one!
NC: What’s your next big project/concert/audition?
I’m currently working on a program of French and English music with a gamba player and harpsichordist. We still have to figure out some logistics but we are hoping to perform in Chicago, Ann Arbor, and St. Louis this summer.
NC: We look forward to making music with you, Ashley! Welcome!