Here at The Newberry Consort, we regularly invite upcoming and established artists from around the country to join us for our innovative, creative programs. We love exploring music with old and new friends!

This week, we’re rehearsing for our upcoming program What’s Old is New: The Leuven Chansonnier, a Chicago premiere of newly-discovered music from a 15th-century songbook. We’re having a great time getting to know one another while rehearsing this fantastic repertoire in Ellen Hargis and David Douglass’ home studio.

Now it’s your turn to meet our visiting musicians! Read on for a bit about each of our visiting artists.

Meet the Musicians of 'What's Old is New' 1

DEBRA NAGY, director of Les Délices, director of “What’s Old is New”
voice, harp, recorder

  • Why are you excited to perform in this concert?
    I’m excited to return to mid-15th century song (after almost 10 years focusing my Medieval music performances in the 14th century) and having some new experiences and revelations relative to performance practice in this repertoire.
  • What is challenging about performing this type of music?
    Figuring out scorings (i.e. who does what) in this music can be challenging. The ranges of the individual parts and the sonic spread of all three (or four) parts starts to get quite large by the 1470s, which complicates matters. For instance, transposition is a regular (and fairly easy) occurrence with earlier repertoires (with smaller ranges), but when you start to look at a song that has a spread of four octaves across three voices (say, from a bass low F to F or G at the top of the treble staff), there’s only one instrument that could possibly play the lowest part (a harp) and transposition upwards becomes out of the question.
  • If you lived in the Middle Ages, who would you want to be and why?
    I would want to be a notary. I’d be literate, educated, relatively independent, reasonably well-paid, and could travel.
  • Reason you’re most grateful you DON’T live in the Middle Ages?
    Heat, indoor plumbing, and food security.

Meet the Musicians of 'What's Old is New' 2

ELLEN HARGIS, co-artistic director of the Newberry Consort
soprano

  • Why are you excited to perform in this concert?
    This repertoire is some of the first early music I ever sang, and I’m sentimental about it for that reason. But having this be a debut of newly-discovered music is definitely a plus — and working with Debra in one of her areas of expertise is sure to be enlightening.
  • What is challenging about performing this type of music?
    Through exploration and experimentation with colleagues, finding the heart of the piece and learning to integrate the music and lyrics into a perfect marriage of different beauties.
  • If you lived in the Middle Ages, who would you want to be and why?
    A nun in Hildegard von Bingen’s convent. That music!
  • Reason you’re most grateful you DON’T live in the Middle Ages?
    Plague, winter, and dentistry.

Meet the Musicians of 'What's Old is New' 3

DAVID DOUGLASS, co-artistic director of the Newberry Consort
vielle

  • Why are you excited to perform in this concert?
    Music from the 15th century is some of the most evocative music ever written. It represents a time when composers were just beginning to express human emotions more directly, more transparently, and as a result the melodies became more beautiful and memorable. In some cases extremely memorable.
  • What is challenging about performing this type of music?
    The music does not contain a series of cords or a chord progression. The music is composed of interweaving melodies, and being aware of that as you’re performing it, to hear your melody as it joins the others, is counter to the skills we learn as musicians today.
  • If you lived in the Middle Ages, who would you want to be and why?
    Thibault, the King of Navarre, circa 1225. He was a Trouvère, wrote beautiful poetry and music, and performed to his own accompaniment. And, being a king in the Middle Ages is the best way to go, considering the perks, kind of like first class on a long flight.
  • Reason you’re most grateful you DON’T live in the Middle Ages?
    Dentistry. Or any of the other awful things you would eventually encounter, as someone does, and the level of knowledge that available to confront them.

Meet the Musicians of 'What's Old is New' 4

DANIEL FRIDLEY
baritone

  • Why are you excited to perform in this concert?
    This concert presents an unusual and exciting chance to revisit repertoire I had previously explored at Case Western Reserve University. I got a taste for the beauty of this music in that program, and am excited to do some of the same pieces (as well as some new and different ones) in this concert with the fabulous musicians of Les Délices and the Newberry Consort!
  • What is challenging about performing this type of music?
    I think one of the main challenges with this music is presenting it in a way which speaks to modern audiences. Medieval music has so much to say to a modern audience, but it’s often harder to access, in part because it’s so separated from modern experience, and there are so many unanswered questions about its performance. One of the ways this manifests in this repertoire is in the formes fixes—they repeat the same melodic material with different text many times. That’s not an objectionable phenomenon of course (look at strophic Schubert songs), but does present the challenge of varying the music in ways that reflect the changes in text; both a challenge and an opportunity.
  • If you lived in the Middle Ages, who would you want to be and why?
    I would absolutely want to be one of the nobility. The peasant life, though often romanticized, doesn’t appeal much to me. Realistically, though, I would probably have ended up a monk rather than a knight, due to the appeal of literacy, or maybe a wandering minstrel-style performer.

Meet the Musicians of 'What's Old is New' 5

JASON MCSTOOTS
tenor

  • Why are you excited to perform in this concert?
    I perform music from this period and many of these specific songs extensively in my career, mostly with Blue Heron Ensemble and with Les Délices. These works are transfixing and the forms make us think about time and expression in a new, or maybe very old, way. They are much less goal-driven and much more in the moment. Many are rondo forms where you hear an ear-catching musical moment at the arrival of the new, second section. Then the song makes you wait to hear that sound again until finally the new music comes back to great expressive effect. This looping form I think makes people listen to both the text and the music in a way that feels very fresh to our modern ears.
  • What is challenging about performing this type of music?
    What’s most challenging about this music to me is making it feel alive and visceral in terms of its connection to the text and its application to our modern lives. It’s not that the music doesn’t do this inherently, but more that we have so many preconceived notions about medieval music, in terms of treating it with great purity and cleanness. In reality, this music is as direct and earthy as any pop song today. These songs are about love and longing and desire. They are best when they are performed not like artifacts from a bygone era but as emotionally engaged, vital music about the human condition.
  • If you lived in the Middle Ages, who would you want to be and why?
    This is a great question. I mean, I’d definitely want to be someone born into a good station in life because for the average person life was hard and had little time for pleasure or ease, but I think the life of many people born into royalty was often lonely and thankless. I think I’d probably want to be an artisan. Maybe a baker or a respected cook or perhaps a teacher. Food and music were so often put together; both bring people joy and comfort. On the other hand, teaching people about music and art and nature sounds very appealing as well.
  • Reason you’re most grateful you DON’T live in the Middle Ages?
    Sanitation: modern humanity’s great achievement! And maybe medicine — kind of goes hand in hand! Though I should add that many think medieval people were very fastidious about personal hygiene.

Meet the Musicians of 'What's Old is New' 6

CHARLES METZ
organetto

  • Why are you excited to perform in this concert?
    I will be playing the newly built organetto, which is a unique instrument of this period that was used both in secular and religious settings. Sitting on my lap and controlling the bellows with my left hand makes the instrument feel organic and personal.
  • What is challenging about performing this type of music?
    The challenge of the music is that as a musician you must bring a lot to the page. What you have in front of you is minimal and you must bring it alive hoping to be true to the period.
  • If you lived in the Middle Ages, who would you want to be and why?
    I would have liked to have been a person called Blondel the Minstrel. He may have been a fictional character, but the story is that as a wandering minstrel looking for Richard the Lionhearted, Blondel found him by music. Richard, who was behind walls and captured, answer the song he heard being sung by Blondel, thus identifying himself as Richard the Lionhearted. I feel that music always has power in its communication and this proves to be true through the ages.
  • Reason you’re most grateful you DON’T live in the Middle Ages?
    Living in the Middle Ages had to be a challenge, especially when it came to medicine and health care. For that simple reason I am happy to be alive in the present day.

Allison Monroe - Newberry Consort Young Artist

ALLISON MONROE
vielle and rebec

  • Why are you excited to perform in this concert?
    This is my fourth project with the Newberry Consort, and it’s such an honor to make music with these colleagues.
  • What is challenging about performing this type of music?
    Most of these pieces are in the formes fixes, which can be long and involve a lot of musical repetition. As an instrumentalist who does not get to actually speak or sing the words, it takes a lot of focus and intentional timbral and coloristic variety to help bring out the meaning of the text.
  • If you lived in the Middle Ages, who would you want to be and why?
    I’d probably want to be a nun because you wouldn’t have to marry someone you didn’t want to, you wouldn’t die in childbirth, you’d have shelter, clothes, and food, you might have access to some of the best medicine of the time (granted, that’s not saying much), and you’d get to sing music every day.
  • Reason you’re most grateful you DON’T live in the Middle Ages?
    Plumbing: flush toilets, running water, street drainage.

Meet the Musicians of 'What's Old is New' 7

CHARLES WEAVER
lute

  • Why are you excited to perform in this concert?
    I’m excited because some of this music is recently discovered, and I am playing it for the first time.
  • What is challenging about performing this type of music?
    I think this era’s music is challenging because each line is governed so much by its melodic logic (horizontality), but at the same time, harmony (verticality) is beginning to take a form that is recognizably modern. What I mean by that is that the sonorities are all triads. The musical building blocks then are melodically like earlier music but harmonically like later music. So it takes a lot of subtlety and art to put it together with the rest of the group, but the amount of effort required is often not audible in performance.
  • If you lived in the Middle Ages, who would you want to be and why?
    Since class and educational differences were much greater in the Middle Ages, I think I would have to select a clerical position. I guess it would be fun to be the pope!
  • Reason you’re most grateful you DON’T live in the Middle Ages?
    Antibiotics!

Don’t forget to join us this weekend for “What’s Old is New”!