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Sunday, June 16, 2024
The Observer

Schola Musicorum: Medieval, but far from mid

Trey Paine | The Observer

Tucked away in a back corner of the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center is a room — a room which looks an awful lot like a church. That wouldn’t be out of place at Notre Dame, of course; it seems more buildings here have chapels than don’t.

But some of the things in there don’t quite add up. Unlike most churches (and most rooms at Notre Dame in general) this four story vaulted chamber doesn’t have any religious imagery. There’s no crucifix, no tabernacle, no stained glass. Another thing: it’s set up backwards. Whereas the pipe organ is usually shunted to the back of the church, this room’s pews face the organ, placed smack dab in front. The remaining space where you’d expect to find the altar is empty. Instead, it resembles a stage.

This isn’t a church, but rather a performance space designed to emulate the acoustics of one. This is the Reyes Organ and Choral Hall, the venue for Schola Musicorum’s 59th concert that was held Tuesday. Schola Musicorum is a group of Notre Dame students who study and perform Gregorian chant, Renaissance polyphony and other early choral music under the direction of Professor Alexander Blachly.

It was a great show. Professor Blachly kicked it off with a brief introduction to the music. His already resonant voice really thrummed in the hall, reverberating off the hard walls and under the high ceilings. The program was capped on both ends with an organ prelude and postlude. Both were spectacular. The soloist (Nico Tjoelker, a sacred music DMA student) really put all 2,551 pipes of the Reyes Hall’s Fritts organ to work.

After the prelude, we were all on the edge of our seats — no, the edge of our pews. The organ, and even Professor Blachly’s speech, sounded incredible in the hall’s faux cathedral acoustics, and we couldn’t wait to hear the effect of 18 voices in the space. We weren’t disappointed.

The program alternated between music from a 12th century German manuscript and a variety of other Medieval and Renaissance composers, as well as switching between chant and polyphonic styles. All of it was performed extremely well. The blend of voices was particularly remarkable, and the handful of cantors who led certain numbers really excelled.

Midterms is always a busy time for music at universities. The music each ensemble started working on when they got here is now ready, and a slew of concerts comes all at once. Just in the past week alone, Notre Dame hosted this performance, the Notre Dame Symphony Orchestra’s big show, Laura Colladant’s “Liederabend” and four different recitals.

In general, fall is a boom time for classical music everywhere — the symphony orchestras and their players return from summer residencies and music festivals, the season’s program is announced and begins, etc. However, the first show of the Metropolitan Opera in New York — one of the season’s gems — is a big deal for many people other than just classical music heads. It’s a staple event for fashion magazines, gossip rags and the Real Housewives of New York too. It’s just as much about the socialites in the audience as it is about the composers and performers on stage.

Sadly, the Schola Musicorum concert seriously underdelivered on Bravo TV champagne-tossing drama. Maybe there was some slight resentment towards me whenever I sniffed my runny nose and some animosity towards the man who accidentally sat in one of the pews that creaked whenever he shifted his weight. But really, everyone at the concert was excruciatingly polite.

In regards to fashion and beauty, if my fellow patrons at this show were any indicator, the big trends of Fall/Winter 2023 will be: for girls, wearing floral dresses in modest lengths and generally dressing like Vatican II never happened; for boys, wearing rectangular glasses with wire frames at the very tip of the nose; for women, having long white hair neatly kempt and styled down or in loose braids; and for men, specifically men's fragrances, smelling strongly of shaving cream and a little bit like beef.