The Texas Tech University Collegium Musicum was founded by director Angela Mariani in 2001 at the TTU School of Music. Averaging from about a dozen to twenty people in a given semester, the Collegium offers small but vibrant musical community through which its members can explore medieval, Renaissance, and early Baroque music through the medium of performance. The experience of working with period instruments and investigating the performance processes of early western music is enjoyable, illuminating, and also deepens the students’ understanding of the music to which they are introduced in the School of Music’s history classes and seminars.
“Collegium Musicum” is a term that came into use in the sixteenth century to describe a “musical society” of people who would regularly get together to play vocal and/or instrumental music for their own entertainment and pleasure. This custom was still flourishing in the time of J. S. Bach (17-18th century), who also had a “Collegium Musicum.” Members of these “collegia” ranged from accomplished amateurs to professional musicians, and were particularly popular with musicians at universities. As a result, when interest in historical performance began to flourish in the 20th century, the term “Collegium Musicum” was often used to describe a group of university musicians playing what is often referred to as “early music.”
The TTU “Collegium” is actually comprised of several different groups, and our players and singers can take part in some or all of them, depending on the available personnel during any given semester. These can include a combined ensemble working on a particular themed program; a Viol Workshop, in which we learn the rudiments of the instrument called the viola da gamba; a Hildegard Chant Choir, created to explore the works of medieval composer Hildegard von Bingen; a Schola Cantorum, comprised of a mixed group of singers working on Gregorian Chant; a recorder consort; and our newest addition, the Renaissance Wind Ensemble (AKA “Loud Band.”) Members of Collegium have also at times split off into smaller group projects to investigate a particular repertoire, such as medieval dance repertoire.
One of the foremost goals of the TTU Collegium Musicum is to provide students with the opportunity to explore the intersection between performance and scholarship. Our players mostly use historical instruments, especially as we continue to have the good fortune to slowly build Tech’s period instrument collection. In addition to playing music, inquiry into the early performance practices, notations, text, and contexts of the music is a major part of the ensemble mission. An added incentive is the oft-noted feeling of camaraderie among our players and singers, who are combining scholarship and performance in a spirit of community.
Here are three representative examples of TTU Collegium Musicum projects:
In 2017, with the help of a College-Level Ensemble Development Grant from Early Music America (the national service organization for the field of historical performance), the ensemble embarked upon a project with newly-acquired Renaissance Wind Band instruments, which requires us to extensively research the techniques, repertoire, performance practice, and historical pedagogy of these instruments. Pictured, right: the “Loud Band” (shawms, sackbuts, dulcians) enjoys a coaching with Bob Wiemken of the renowned Renaissance wind band Piffaro.
In 2014, the ensemble collaborated with the TTU Main Stage Theatre, performing on-stage historical music for the Shakespeare play “Twelfth Night.” This involved research into Shakespeare’s musical references; the use of musicians for theatrical performances in Shakespeare’s time; the performance practice of the instruments contemporary to the plays; and collaboration with the actors.
In 2011, the ensemble presented a semi-staged production of the Ordo Virtutum, the first-known morality play with music, written by 12th-century abbess and composer Hildegard von Bingen. In addition to researching the staging, texts, and performance contexts of the work in Hildegard’s time, she created a performance score from the original medieval music score, and trained several of the student ensemble members to aid in that process. (A second, completely staged production of Ordo was in the works for 2020, but had to be shelved due to the COVID lockdown.)