For the past several years, the Newberry Consort has been proud to support rising stars in the early music field. Each year, we invite one or more musicians to participate in our Young Artist Mentorship Program, where they have the chance to perform with our seasoned performers.
For our April concerts,, we are pleased to welcome tenor Nathan Dougherty, who is pursuing his DMA in Historical Performance practice at Case Western Reserve University, where he studies with Ellen Hargis and Aaron Sheehan.
Dougherty obtained his undergraduate degree at St. Olaf College, where he performed with the prestigious St. Olaf Choir, before earning his master’s in Early Music Performance at the University of Southern California.
We recently caught up with Dougherty to ask him more about why he loves early music and why he’s looking forward to performing with the Newberry Consort!
Q: When did you first get interested in singing?
A: I have been singing for as long as I can remember. My parents still tell stories about me belting out the greatest hits from The Lion King when I was three or four years old. Sensing a nascent love of song, they lined up voice lessons and I entered the world of theater, choir, and Dicken’s caroling as a boy soprano. I have been singing ever since!
Q: How did you first get interested in performing early music?
A: I first performed early music in college when I joined the Early Music Singers at St. Olaf. In all honesty, I did not join very willingly (I had always loved performing more avant-garde 20th– and 21st-century music). However, once I started and discovered the incredible music, I was hooked. Of course, it’s no wonder I grew to love early music, because my first concert involved excerpts from the Monteverdi Vespers and some of his madrigals—I did not stand a chance!
Q: Do you prefer early music over more modern music?
A: While I still have a soft spot in my heart for more modern music, the thing I love most about early music is its ability to almost literally transport us (the performers, the audiences, the scholars, etc.) back in time. It allows us to step into worlds that are very different than our own, each with their unique and foreign poetic and musical sensibilities. I get to participate in traditions that extends back centuries, and in so doing, broaden my own understanding of voice, music, and history. And yet, by singing this music and immersing myself in this poetry, I also gain a sense not only of how they differ from me and my contemporary experiences, but also how certain enduring feelings and ideas have transcended time and still speak to me on a visceral level.
Q: In this concert, the Newberry Consort will be performing music from Renaissance France. What can you tell us about this type of music?
A: Renaissance France was a truly fascinating time musically, historically, and politically. Like the now more famous Florentine Camerata, French poets like Pierre de Ronsard and Jean-Antoine de Baïf sought to legitimize and celebrate the French vernacular language by imitating the poetic styles of antiquity. This movement was also closely aligned with music and the formation of French stylistic elements that would remain popular well into the 17th century. More importantly, I think, it was a time in which people truly believed in the transformative power of music. France was in the midst of the Wars of Religion, which entailed decades of chaotic and bloody fighting over the religious soul of the country. Music, through its affective power and highly organized structures, was seen as a viable and essential way to calm minds and restore peace, tranquility, and prosperity. Dance, considered a visual, geometric iteration of music, had the same power and was performed alongside songs in the court ballets that became popular starting at the end of the 16th century. Thus, this is not only beautiful music, but is something that meant a great deal to the composers, performers, and audiences at the time, which I think is quite profound.
Q: What is challenging about performing this type of music?
A: The biggest challenge of this music involves how few instructions the composers actually wrote down. On the page, most of the songs from late Renaissance France look rather simple: They are often homophonic and are almost always strophic. That means that we as performers must bring a lot to the table and make a number of choices to bring these pieces to life in an engaging way.
Q: What are you looking forward to about performing in this concert?
A: I have spent a good amount of time researching the music and culture of late-Renaissance France. I have done work on Marie de Médici as a savvy patron of the arts, taken courses on musical humanism in Renaissance France, and even written a Master’s thesis on political street songs from the 1640s; however, I have not had an opportunity to actually sing this music with a talented and knowledgeable group of people. I cannot wait to begin working through these songs with the singers and instrumentalists The Newberry Consort, who are all as passionate about the material and time as I am!