Between September and December of 1974, as preliminary research for a forthcoming book on the Collegium, I explored the activities of early music ensembles and their directors on campuses of 30 American Colleges and Universities.1 Like most of my fellow directors, my knowledge of Collegia derived primarily from my experience with my own group; thus, I attempted to broaden my understanding by sampling as wide a variety of ensembles and institutions as possible. In four separate trips I traveled through the Midwest, the South, the East, and the Far West. I saw Collegia of varying size, complexity, competency, and efficiency.

On each campus I gathered my material from a variety of sources. The most significant information resulted from the detailed, lengthy, formal interview I had with each director. This was recorded with a cassette tape machine for future review. More informal discussion provided a valuable exchange of views, and helped clarify the director's response to items on the interview. Additional insight into the operations of a Collegium and its functions on campus was gained through conversations with Collegium assistants, student members, other faculty, and administrators. Hearing something of almost every Collegium, I audited concerts, rehearsals, tapes, and records. Some directors arranged informal playing sessions for my benefit, and invariably I was invited to participate. I also collected programs, brochures, statements of philosophy, and other documents. Without exception I was received with the greatest professional courtesy, and was accorded the wholehearted cooperation of all concerned.

The Collegium is an imperfectly understood ensemble, sometimes perceived in quite different ways by directors, performers, and administrators. Its mission, its philosophy, its repertoire, its size, its organization, its operation—these are all unsettled questions on many campuses. The Collegium is not a readily identifiable ensemble in the manner of more established groups such as bands and orchestras. Its diversity is so great, its repertoire so wide, its size so variable, that there is no simple accurate way of describing what it is that a Collegium does. At best one can define it as an ensemble performing mostly music written before 1750.

Hence this article will attempt to examine in an orderly manner the Collegium as it exists, including a description of its directors and their problems, and its organization, weaknesses, and strengths. Although I avoided comparing one group to another, I found it impossible to be a neutral observer. My biases, I hope, are clear, and I take the responsibility for them.



Collegium directors work in relative isolation. Opportunities to hear other groups are infrequent. Locally produced tapes and records rarely are shared with colleagues, and even an exchange of programs is unusual.

The parameters of performance-practice of an orchestra or other established ensemble are comparatively narrow. No one dreams of criticizing an orchestra for the instrumentation of a Beethoven symphony, the vibrato of a wind player, or the slow tempo of a slow movement. On the other hand, almost anything a Collegium does can be attacked in some way. A simple dance by Susato is open to questions of tempo, instrumentation, blend, tone quality, tuning, articulation, percussion, improvisation, etc. Thus the director tends to avoid situations that will expose him to potential critics. "I know what I'm doing," he reasons; "my audiences enjoy it, and I'm not concerned about what other so-called experts say or do." This unspoken attitude was by no means universal, but I found it often enough to some degree.

Since they have little knowledge of the activities of other Collegia, directors tend to see their own ensembles and achievements as somewhat unique. Some ten or fifteen years ago Collegia frequently consisted of study groups with a few instruments giving poorly conceived and poorly performed concerts. Many directors think that this is still the way most Collegia are run, and that they alone have found a better way. Before my trip, as another isolated director, I also believed this. It did not take long for me to be disabused. Thus many directors were surprised when I described my Collegium to them, either because it was like theirs ("your group is just like mine") or, as happened most often, because it was not ("your group is nothing like mine").

So far I have described my fellow directors in terms of their inflated egos and mild paranoia; but these traits are not uncommon to many artists, and it is no criticism of Collegium directors to say that they too share them. More important, they revealed themselves to be a competent group of musicians; their ensembles were ably administered, and they demonstrated respectable standards of performance and scholarship.

Is it fair to speak of my fellow Collegium directors in a collective sense, as I have been doing? To my surprise, I found that so many of them had such similar backgrounds, philosophies, and goals, that it was possible for me to draw a profile of the typical director. His characteristics were shared to a significant extent by almost all of those to whom I spoke.

The typical Collegium director is before all else a performer. Developing an interest in "early music" (usually anything before Bach) as a college student, he (or she) finds working with a largely unknown and esoteric repertoire an exhilarating experience. Sooner or later he comes to realize that "his music" was intended for instruments other than the modern ones he plays. He begins to buy historical instruments (an expensive habit some directors continue throughout their careers), and teaches himself to play them. He lends them to his friends (later, to his students) so that he can play ensemble music. He may own recorders, krummhorns, viols, harpsichords, lutes, sackbuts, and cornetti. He is now a committed performer of early music, and hopes in some way to spend his life at it.

Often he chooses a career in musicology as a means to this end. He tends to view other musicologists, who may have been attracted to the discipline for more scholarly reasons, as purists who regard performance as unproductive. This purist, not always entirely imagined, contributes to his mild paranoia. Thus a common complaint I received from directors was, "Everybody likes the Collegium except my colleagues in musicology."

Our Collegium director has undergone no formal training for his work—no methods courses, no apprenticeship. Apart from programs in a few Universities, such training does not yet exist. At best, he has participated in a Collegium, such as it might have been, in his college days. He has trained himself to run his ensemble. Despite inevitable gaps in his preparation, he is a capable organizer and administrator, and tends to overcome his shortcomings with his unquenchable enthusiasm for his work and his dedication to the performance of early music. He has been directing his group for about six years.



Armed with a questionnaire of over sixty items ranging from the factual ("How long has your Collegium been in existence?"), through the philosophical ("How do you feel about authenticity?"), to the personal ("Rate your performance as a Collegium director"), I was rewarded with a great deal of information. Some of it helped me to better understand the Collegium movement and some provided the data needed to identify various types of Collegia. Questions that solicited the director's opinion of operational concepts told me much about his interests, training, ability, and personality. A few of the more interesting questions and answers follow:

What is your philosophy of vocal tone? Most directors, replying in terms of renaissance choral music, described to me a well-supported, clear, bright tone, placed forward, with little or no vibrato. But this ideal was seldom found in practice and most often was not even attempted. Perhaps this is not surprising, since most directors are instrumentalists with little vocal training. Yet directors with a choral orientation seem more concerned with what could be considered as an acceptable modern choral sound.

There seem to be three reasons for this gap between theory and practice. First, some directors are not sure how this tone quality is to be achieved, who can achieve it, or how to ask for it—and it is true that asking for the wrong kind of production can be harmful, particularly to younger voices. Second, many fear that their colleagues on the voice faculty will prohibit their students from singing in an ensemble that calls for this kind of sound. "They are all opera-oriented here," one director after another confided to me. Finally, the vocal quality that the directors favor in theory as suitable for renaissance music requires renaissance balance, articulation, phrasing, and tuning, all working in harmony, for full effectiveness. Few directors were able to accomplish this synthesis.

What are the major obstacles faced by you and your Collegium? I found only a handful of Collegia possessing a basic instrumentarium; even fewer could be described as moderately well equipped: yet only a third of my interviewees cited a lack of instruments as an obstacle.2 In some cases the directors were determined to overcome all odds, and felt that other elements of the Collegium were more important than the hardware. In other situations, directors were lending their own extensive collections to their students; and students were buying instruments themselves. In a few instances instruments were being constructed on campus.

The most frequent complaint was of jealousy, resistance, interference, and general lack of understanding, particularly on the part of department heads and deans. Although I often wondered how much of these feelings of distress were truth and how much paranoia, there is no question that directors are not happy with the place of the Collegium on their campuses. They believe it should rank with other major ensembles.

Lack of sufficient rehearsal time was a commonly stated obstacle. Although rehearsal times varied between one and five hours a week, the ensembles I visited practiced on the average a little over two hours a week. This must be considered inadequate if the goal is consistent and respectable performance standards.

Only one person cited what seems to me to be the major obstacle faced by any Collegium—the weaknesses of the director himself. Running a Collegium calls for an almost impossible combination of scholar, music educator, conductor, administrator, dancer, vocal and instrumental performer, linguist, diplomat, repairman, and instrument maker. Few measure up to these qualifications, and the weaknesses of any Collegium must reflect those of its director. The directors themselves are not unaware of this; and practically all of them told me that they wished they had better training in conducting, more courses in performance practice, an apprenticeship in running a Collegium, and so on.

Two of my respondents, true optimists, indicated that they had no problems.

What are your qualifications as a Collegium Director? Many felt that the breadth of their musicological training, combined with their own practical experience, qualified them sufficiently. But we are dealing with an endeavor where qualifications count for little, success for everything. Thus it is not surprising that most either felt that their own experiences as early music performers qualified them, or they obviously were qualified to do it since they were doing it successfully. For some reason, a common answer to this question in the East was, "I am qualified because I can get along with people."

What are your feelings about authenticity? The directors had ambivalent feelings about authenticity. They described it in terms of an unattainable ideal, about which we really know very little, but toward which we should work. On the other hand, it was stressed that the object was to make music that is acceptable to modern audiences. One director put it this way:

I am constantly striving to know what authenticity is and to stay within its bounds. In terms of playing techniques, improvisation, ornamentation, phrasing, and articulation, we are guided by information we get from our studies of the sources. But there is never enough of this kind of information, so we supplement it with the best musical guesses we have about authentic direction. Our goal is to discover and produce the sounds and artistic goals of the original performers, but we are forced to make compromises because the music must be performed for the modern audience. The Collegium must sell its music to its audience, especially if we want them to come back.

The question of the authenticity of our instruments is an even more complex problem. We all realize that many of the instruments we pass off as faithful reproductions are in fact far removed from their historical models, that the tone of instruments such as the shawm and the krummhorn depends in large part on the construction of the reed, that the player's concept of tone strongly determines the sound of many instruments, that early renaissance instruments are not the same as later ones, and that many instruments suitable for medieval music are not yet available. Again, compromise is unavoidable.

The directors are almost painfully aware of this dilemma, since audiences unquestioningly accept their claims of authenticity. Curiously, I found that many directors insisted on authenticity in some areas, but accepted anomalies in others. One, for example, prohibited renaissance viols but not the renaissance lute (with nylon strings) in medieval music; another tuned his (unhistorical) harpsichord in mean-tone temperament, but permitted modern versions of baroque recorders in renaissance music. Criticism, however, is out of place here—one takes what he has and does the best he can with it.

What is your philosophy of a Collegium? The replies revealed the underlying pragmatism of the directors who responded almost unanimously that the function of the Collegium is to teach early music through performance. A Collegium is a group that makes music; it happens, most often, to be early music. Although the words of the answers were different, the message came through clearly: if scholarship is the means, then the Collegium is the end.

What is your basic repertoire? Most Collegia perform renaissance and medieval music, or renaissance and baroque music, or all three. Obviously, more renaissance music is performed than anything else. Some groups also give concerts of classical, romantic, and contemporary music; hence my description of the Collegium earlier in this paper as "an ensemble performing mostly music written before 1750."3

How much of your teaching load is officially credited to Collegium; how much of your working time actually is taken by Collegium? Every Collegium director knows the answer to this one: typically, the Collegium constitutes one-third of a director's load, but he spends at least half his working time on it. Even then, we all agree that we could do better if we could devote more time to our ensembles. In addition to finding music, editing, programming, translating, teaching, playing, and preparing performances, it is not uncommon to find directors spending up to ten contact hours a week with various groups within their Collegia. Running a Collegium successfully demands organization and efficient rehearsal techniques, and doing the best possible job probably would be a full time occupation—obviously a luxury few institutions as yet can afford.



Although I found nine distinct types of Collegia, most of the directors I talked to showed little curiosity about ensembles structured differently from their own. They are too involved in making their own groups work to be concerned about how other people are doing it; and naturally enough, each tended to regard his own operation as an ideal one, however imperfectly realized. But I found some frustrated directors attempting styles of Collegia either too complex for their departments and campuses or too ill-fitted to their personalities or training. The most successful directors had clear ideas about what they hoped to achieve and had established ensembles that best met the needs of their departments and campuses. Furthermore, they made the most efficient use of their qualifications, their executive abilities, the limits of their time, their budget possibilities, and the personnel available for assistance.

The types of Collegia are described below in the order of complexity of operation. It would be impossible to represent any one type as superior to another; each is best suited to its own particular set of circumstances. In practice, of course, some Collegia have elements of more than one type. A Versatility Collegium may include some sub-ensembles, or an Elite Collegium may perform with a small chorus from time to time. A surprising number of ensembles clearly were of one type or another.

1. The Do-Your-Own-Thing Collegium. This is a loose organization of students who are interested in having a "Collegium experience." Admitted without audition, they form into groups dictated either by instruments (such as recorder consort) or by interest (such as baroque trio sonatas). Each group sets its own rehearsal schedule and works independently. The director, who becomes more involved with the groups as concert-time approaches, usually reserves the option of requiring a minimum standard of performance before allowing a group on the program. Most often, however, all the groups will perform, since authoritarianism is contrary to the philosophy of the Do-Your-Own-Thing Collegium.

Few instruments are available and little or no instruction is offered; each person essentially is on his own. Personnel changes are high from one semester or term to the next. Often the success of this type of Collegium depends on the presence of one or two highly motivated instrument-owning "early music freaks."

The Do-Your-Own-Thing Collegium, while not a common type, seems to flourish best in small private colleges, particularly those where students are encouraged to invent their own programs and widen their horizons through experimentation. It requires a minimum outlay of time from the director, who probably is overworked anyway. Since the emphasis is on the experience, audiences do not expect high performance standards; they come to watch their friends do their thing. Good performances may occur nevertheless, usually as a result of the knowledge and enthusiasm of the resident early music freaks.

2. The Pick-Up Collegium. The Pick-Up group is a phenomenon found most often in the East, where large numbers of professional early music performers are found. Carefully selected students may be involved in the Pick-Up Collegium, but the burden of a program is carried by the professionals who appear for a few rehearsals and the concert. Either they are hired for this service, or they do it as a favor to the director who, a professional himself, often returns the same favor to his friends. Performances are of high quality, and afterward the group ceases to exist. Before the next concert a new group will be gathered together.

Since the director is a professional, instruction on historical instruments is common. Those studying, however, may not always participate in their own Collegium, which seems to lead a life apart from its institution. More often, the student's goal is to become an early music professional himself, and to play in his own group.

Using professionals to bolster student groups has been a common practice in the East for a long time, since Easterners tend to judge all performances by the high professional standards to which they are exposed at every turn. If a University does not have the personnel to man a Collegium of this quality, it will hire them. Thus the institution preserves its reputation, the audience hears a good concert, the professionals are working, and the student is given a high standard of performance toward which he can work.

3. The Study-Performance Collegium. More common ten or fifteen years ago than it is today, the Study-Performance Collegium is a class offered to students interested in learning about early music through performance. Usually everybody in the class sings and some also will play the few available instruments. A lot of music is read, particularly at the beginning of the term, since it is felt that this activity provides greater insight into a period of music history than would the rehearsal of a limited number of pieces. The director may devote a certain amount of class time to lectures on the period under study.

Eventually a program will emerge. As in the Do-Your-Own-Thing Collegium, the presence of a few devoted and instrument-owning students (who repeat the class every term) may make the difference between successful performance and something less. In any case, the director will attempt to apply some standard to determine which pieces will appear on the program, or even if the group will perform in public at all.

At its best, the Study-Performance group can be a valuable adjunct to a musicology program. Students learn music history, perform a lot of repertoire, become familiar with library resources, develop skills in transcribing early notation, and learn editing procedures. At its worst it can present long, dull, poorly programmed concerts, and students may expend a great deal of effort yet learn very little. A fine sense of balance and detachment is needed by the director, and it is essential that both he and his fellow musicologists agree on where the emphasis should be placed. Such a group rarely can reach high performance standards, and this must be understood by everyone involved.

4. The Elite Collegium. Found more frequently than those types described so far, the Elite Collegium consists of from 7 to 12 instrumental doublers and solo singers. The director, dedicated to performance, invariably plays with the group. Turnover is low and replacements are selected with great care. The Elite Collegium usually calls itself a Musica Antiqua or by some other Latin name. Its models are professional groups such as the late New York Pro Musica, and it emphasizes professional standards. Its members often include faculty performers and qualified personnel from outside the music department or even outside the institution. Student involvement is minimal, and most of the instruments are owned by the members of the group. Some instruction may be offered on early instruments, but only those few students admitted to the Elite group will have a chance to develop as early music performers.

The Elite Collegium attempts to establish a professional reputation. It performs and tours as much as possible. Its influence may be widely felt, particularly in more isolated areas of the country; and such groups have introduced many people to early music.

5. The Instrumental Collegium. An instrumental group that often adds solo voices, this Collegium is built around the strengths and preferences of its director. Regular instruction is given on early instruments. The aim is to develop a large, flexible group of performers with an extensive instrumentarium of winds. Although often called Renaissance Wind Band, Instrumental Collegia may add viols and other strings when possible. Such programs often develop good instrumental performers and expose their audiences to the more colorful side of renaissance music.

6. The Choral Collegium. Choral Collegia often evolve from madrigal groups, chamber choirs, or similar vocal ensembles consisting of anywhere from sixteen to thirty singers. To the voices are added a number of instruments, often a combination of historical and modern. Such Collegia are directed by people with choral backgrounds who hope to expand the boundaries of the traditional choral ensemble. Sometimes lacking musicological training, the directors of these groups often seek advice from colleagues, or undertake to educate themselves in matters of style and performance practices. The Choral Collegium may concentrate on a repertoire of renaissance music, but it often performs also a significant amount of later literature.

7. The Versatility Collegium. Found on the campuses of larger universities, the Versatility group consists of a small chorus of from ten to twenty singers, and between ten and twenty instrumentalists. Solo voices are drawn from the chorus when needed. Many of the instrumentalists double, and instruction on historical instruments generally is available. Instruction in historical dance also may be part of this program. The group owns at least a basic instrumentarium of woodwinds, strings, and brass. Entrance is by audition and turnover is low.

This is a versatile group because it is equipped to perform practically all of the sacred, secular, instrumental, and vocal music of the Middle Ages, the Renaissance, and beyond. It may be led by someone who has both instrumental and choral experience, and who gives equal emphasis and attention to both elements of his group; but directors with these somewhat unique qualifications are rare. Most often two people share the directorship of these ensembles. The Versatility Collegium and the two types that follow have the greatest potential for offering programs of variety, interest, and substance, at performance levels that may approach professional standards.

8. The Sub-Ensemble Collegium. Found on about a third of the campuses I visited, the Sub-Ensemble Collegium consists of small ensembles of various kinds: wind band, chorus, chanson group, viol consort, etc. Students may play in more than one ensemble, often for additional credit. Sub-Ensemble Collegia may run training groups or provide class instruction, to which students are admitted without audition. As the best performers rise to the top they are placed in the various sub-ensembles. Classes in historical dance are common. Such Collegia are large, and may involve as many as forty or more students. Invariably graduate assistants or other junior faculty give instruction, teach the training groups, rehearse the sub-ensembles, and generally help the director run his organization.

Concerts may be of two types: those in which the Collegium participates as an integrated whole, or those in which various sub-ensembles each perform a group of pieces. Like the Versatility group, a Sub-Ensemble Collegium is capable of producing varied, interesting, and substantial programs of high quality. Sub-Ensemble Collegia are complex groups. They require a director with some administrative ability, since he must deal with other faculty and teaching assistants as well as his Collegium members. As an organizational type, it makes great demands on the director's time.

9. The Early Music Conservatory. More than a performing group (and often not even called a Collegium), the Early Music Conservatory involves large numbers of students and faculty who give frequent, varied, high-quality performances of early music and dance. Many faculty and/or graduate assistants are involved in teaching, coaching, and administering small ensembles. Formal instruction is given on historical instruments and is considered part of the curriculum. Students usually own their instruments, and are encouraged to learn as many different instruments as they can. The aim of the Early Music Conservatory is to graduate professional-caliber performers of early music.



The Collegium is in a healthy state, but it does have its problems. Although renaissance music is the repertoire most performed, too few directors seem to have developed a sense of renaissance style. Concentrating on good ensemble playing and intonation (laudable goals, certainly), they make little attempt to deal with basic problems of tone, articulation, phrasing, tuning, and temperament. The result can be described as renaissance music, often well-played or sung, in modern style. If baroque music comes off somewhat better, medieval music fares even worse. There is an obvious need, it would seem, for courses in medieval and renaissance performance practices.

Such courses also might help eliminate two common approaches to renaissance music that I personally find objectionable: the "Berlioz school" and the "hardware approach."4 The former favors a romantic ambience in which the music is presented in as colorful a manner as possible. Instrumental voices are mixed with little regard for authenticity; repeats are performed with varied instrumentation; grotesque contrasts are exploited; the use of vibrato is pervasive. The general effect may be compared to our modern massive performances of Mozart's arrangement of Handel's Messiah: interesting, but one can scarcely call it baroque music.

In the hardware approach the instruments themselves are considered to be of greater intrinsic value than the music. Concerts may tend to become more a demonstration of the unusual sounds of the instruments than a presentation of worthwhile music. In extreme cases the hardware approach may resemble a comedy routine, with instruments such as racketts and krummhorns played strictly for laughs.

The Berlioz school and the hardware approach both rely heavily on gimmickry, and present the public with a distorted view of the Collegium and its repertoire. A Collegium program—or any program for that matter—need not be devoid of humor, and gimmicks in themselves are not necessarily bad. A concert of renaissance music is in itself a gimmick. But these things can be done in good taste. Certainly a performer should show some respect for the music he has chosen to present to an audience.

Finally, most Collegia are handicapped by a lack of money and instruments. In reply to my question asking directors to give their average yearly budget, the inevitable answer was, "What budget?" At the same time inflation, increasing costs, and a seller's market have driven the prices of historical instruments to incredible heights. Eventually budgets will increase and the price of instruments will come down, but this serious situation is likely to continue for some time to come.

Generally, however, the prognosis for the Collegium is a happy one. Certainly the directors are not perfect, which only proves their humanity. As a fellow director, I must accept my own share of the criticisms I have heaped upon their heads. We are all willing to learn, and as a group we are improving all the time. The fact is, that as the fastest-growing ensemble on College and University campuses, the Collegium is here to stay. It is beginning to reach down even into high schools. Most music departments consider the Collegium to be an important adjunct to their traditional programs, although they may not accord it the status wished for by its directors.

The Collegium is doing a creditable job of presenting an interesting and varied repertoire to enthusiastic audiences—audiences that are getting larger and more knowledgeable all the time. Through the efforts and dedication of the directors and their Collegia, listeners are discovering the delights and musical worth of medieval, renaissance, and baroque music played on historical instruments, and they are coming back again and again.

This should please all of us who teach music in Colleges and Universities, and particularly those of us who are musicologists. For the first time laymen are listening to, and enjoying, the music with which we concern ourselves daily. The Collegium, in a demonstrable sense, is the end-product of our discipline: the proof, if proof be required, that musicology has value to the real world.

1The time for this travel was made available to me through a research assignment from the University of Iowa. The Collegia and their directors at the following institutions were visited: Bowling Green University, Oliver Chamberlain; Case Western Reserve University, John Suess and Loren Anderson; Columbia University, Richard Taruskin and Paul Hawkshaw; Grinnell College, James Wiley; Hartt College of Music (University of Hartford), Emanuel Willheim and Shelly Gruskin; Holy Names College, Peter Hurd; Indiana University, John Howell and Fiora Contino; Iowa State University, Carl Bleyle; Keyon College, Kenneth Taylor; New England Conservatory, Daniel Pinkham and Kenneth Roth; Oakland University, Lyle Nordstrom; Oberlin College, Dean Nuerenberger; Odessa College, Peter Figert; Stanford University, George Houle; University of California-Riverside, Ellen Farwell; University of Colorado, Gordon Sanford; University of Florida, Willis Bodine; University of Florida, John Kitts; University of Georgia, Daniel Politoske; University of Kansas, J. Bunker Clark; University of Kentucky, Wesley Morgan; University of Michigan, Thomas Taylor; University of Pittsburg, Colin Stern; University of Southern California, Gilbert Blount; University of Texas, Homer Rudolf; Valparaiso University, Newmann Powell and Karen Shirer; Yale University, Alejandro Planchart. In addition, I had the opportunity to hear the following groups and interview their directors, but did not visit their campuses: Brandeis University, James Olesen; North Texas State University, Cecil Adkins; University of Pennsylvania, Mary Ann Ballard. My research also included informal discussion with many other Collegium directors not listed here.

2One might expect a Collegium to own the more common renaissance instruments. However, only two-thirds of those I visited owned krummhorns or viols; only one-third listed renaissance recorders, cornetti, or shawms. While one-half owned sackbuts, only a few had rauschpfeifes, racketts, or renaissance flutes.

3At one major institution I visited, the University Orchestra was at one time called the Collegium; now the University Chorus has that name. There is a Collegium on campus, but it is not officially connected with the University and it is not called a Collegium.

4The term "Berlioz school" is mine, but "hardware approach" was given to me by Prof. Alejandro Planchart of Yale University.

2055 Last modified on November 12, 2018