The Collegium Musicum: Complacency or Commitment?

  • PDF: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40375090

Considering the more than 1300 different colleges, universities, conservatories, schools of music, and community colleges listed in the 1972-1974 CMS Directory, it is a bit disconcerting to find that only 197 faculty members list themselves as Collegium directors at these institutions. The listings, moreover, include schools reporting multiple directorships where in fact only one faculty member is actually involved during any given academic year, schools in which the director's energies are applied to an early music ensemble not actually affiliated with the department where he is employed, schools in which the "director" prefers to function as a consultant leaving the details of organization and daily operation to graduate students, and schools where the term "Collegium Musicum" is used to refer to the department's symphony orchestra, an experimental music ensemble, or an ensemble not primarily concerned with a Medieval, Renaissance, and/or Baroque repertory. The listings do not, however, include faculty with personal and sometimes professional early music interests of their own, interests which may spread to the student community in what is normally a non-curricular capacity; but the listings do suggest that at best only around fifteen percent of the academic institutions in the United States and Canada are pursuing formal Collegium Musicum programs of any sort, fledgling or otherwise.

The reasons for this are many, and they vary from institution to institution. Probably the most important reason why there are no active Collegium programs on some of our more prestigious campuses lies with the local image of musicology itself as a discipline: humanistic, scholarly, one step removed from the supposed threat to academic standards posed by the undermining influence of practical performance. The musicology student should at all times be in the library, preferably in rare books, or chained to a microfilm reader, rather than out somewhere practicing an early instrument or, worse yet, giving a concert of Medieval or Renaissance music. Widespread, though archaic, is the related notion that there simply are not enough hours in the day to develop and maintain the necessary proficiencies in both the scholarly and applied areas, a view held by perhaps even more performers than musicologists, a view not likely shared by many Collegium directors.

On other campuses library facilities are limited, and access to a broad spectrum of the early music repertory is not easy. Microfilm collections of necessary materials are inadequate, and so there are no performance practice courses in the curriculum. No faculty lines are provided for Collegium development, not to mention early instrument instruction, because department priorities are ordered in favor of the previously existing ensembles. No degree credit is offered to the musicology student for performance-related activities, and, even though a proficiency exam in performance may be administered prior to admission, what the student does in this area after enrolling depends largely on his own initiative. Opportunities for first-hand student contact with historical instruments are limited, because beyond possibly a few recorders and a harpsichord the department has no early instrument collection.

Even in those departments with formal early music performance programs, Collegium library and instrument collections are normally small. More than eighty percent of the functioning programs are less than twelve years old, and over half are less than seven. Only about one third of the participating institutions appear to offer any degree credit for Collegium-related courses, this being generally on a par with band, orchestra, and choral organizations except in those institutions where the Collegium is regarded as a minor ensemble not befitting the same dignity and stature as the more deeply entrenched organizations. Only the barest number of participating institutions are farsighted enough to offer an undergraduate music major or minor in the area of early music performance, and these are usually not adequately staffed to offer the degree at the level it should be.

About three fourths of the Collegium directors in the country are given some teaching load credit for their Collegium courses, and on the average about a twenty-five percent credit is allowed, the equivalent of approximately one course in either a three or four course-load situation. For small and beginning programs this may well be adequate, but for the director who manages fifteen to twenty sub-ensembles, each with a separate repertory, and coordinates the activities of all in the production of a series of ten to twenty aggregate concerts each year, it is not.

Of course, one of the most important resources for developing an active Collegium program on any campus is a generous budget, and few if any Collegia have one. While some budgetary support is apparently predictable for the majority of Collegium directors, the amount allocated is generally under five hundred dollars annually, just about enough for one good Baroque flute, one half of a bass gamba, or about one twelfth of a first line double harpsichord. A few of the more fortunate apparently have annual budgets of over two thousand dollars, but many have no budgets at all. Where money is allocated, it is usually earmarked for music and music instruments, with little being set aside for tour and travel. Many directors, including the present writer, develop their programs at personal financial sacrifice, while some of the more active groups have been able to enlist the aid of state Fine Arts Foundations or Arts Councils.

Most American Collegia are comprised of both music and non-music students, as well as music and non-music faculty. Faculty spouses and other interested townspeople are occasionally included, although rehearsal scheduling can become more complicated as a result. Some Collegia are closely tied to music history curricula and have no independent performance existence, being viewed primarily as study or laboratory groups. Other groups prepare a formal campus concert once a semester (or quarter) which they may or may not repeat in the nearby vicinity for service organizations, other colleges, churches or other community functions, or for broadcast on radio or television. Still others, and these can be counted on one hand, tour occasionally as the result of invitations from foreign governments, as the result of revenues they are able to earn giving concerts for community and college fine arts series, and as the result of occasional supplementary assistance they may receive from their departments and/or college travel funds.

It is clear, at least at the present time, that the Collegium Musicum as an American institution is in its infancy. Neglected by most colleges altogether, treated as a necessary curiosity by others, nurtured by only a few, its future will be bright only if greater energies and resources are applied to its growth and development. A potential Collegium director eager to develop an early music program within the college framework must have an unusual number of qualifications, and he must be prepared to face a number of obstacles and challenges both academic and administrative if he is to accomplish his objectives. Unlikely it is that he will emerge degree in hand with all of the skills necessary to handle the myriad aspects of an early music performance-study program. The curriculum he studied was almost certainly weak in a number of important areas, and this budding director will in fact have to be a highly versatile individual in a society academically oriented toward the disciplining of specialists.

In an ideal situation, the Collegium director will be fluent in a wide range of musicological skills including a facility in the transcribing and editing of early music with competence in various systems of early notation, clef code transposition, text underlay, musica ficta, and the related disciplines this assumes. He will have adequate bibliographic skills to enable him to locate with ease the kinds of music he wants; he will need to be able to read, or at least translate, three or four foreign languages; and he will as well need to be familiar with current research in early language pronunciation. He should be an accomplished performer on at least one historical instrument, have a concert capability on several others, with enough background in the remainder to prevent the student from developing bad habits during the early months of his instrumental study. He should be able to read music in a variety of clefs, if not in the original notation, and he should be able to aurally synthesize a complicated score at sight since most of the music he will be considering will not be available on recording. He should be able to ornament and embellish a written line in a polyphonic context, extemporize a heterophonic line along with a notated melody, and improvise a countermelody over a pre-existent tenor, preferably in a variety of styles depending on the time and place of compositional origin.

He will need to be familiar with the products, pricings, quality of workmanship, concern with authenticity, and approximate delivery times of a large variety of early instrument makers, and he will need to be able to interpret the significant treatises, didactic manuals, and instrument tutors from the Middle Ages through the late 18th century as guides to stylistic accuracy in interpretation. And, as if this weren't enough, it would be to his definite advantage to be versed in the techniques of voice production and coaching, and choral and instrumental conducting, particularly if large scale Baroque works are going to be attempted.

If he has all of these skills, together with the necessary charisma, his potential for success in the proper environment is high. He will hope for a sympathetic, understanding, and determined administration because his activities are going to require an expenditure over the first few years of approximately twenty thousand dollars, needed to acquire a basic collection of early instruments that should include consorts of recorders, crumhorns, shawms, sackbuts, viols, keyboards, lute, and various percussion. This is a collection that will by no means enable his Collegium to perform all repertory authentically, and a number of additional instruments should be eventually acquired if this is to be done with accuracy and distinction. Until the ensemble's reputation builds locally, the Collegium director may need to actively recruit students into the activity, and, if possible, he will try to interest the appropriate applied faculty in a program whereby they encourage their students to learn the historical predecessors of modern instruments as a way of deepening the student's knowledge of his own instrument and its repertory. He will try to develop an interest on the part of one or two of the department's voice teachers in creating a new breed of self-reliant singers, students not oriented toward the operatic "big sound," students not dependent on the voice coach for every note and nuance, students without the wobble that bridges a minor third, students with an ensemble sensitivity and degree of musicianship that begins to approach the standards demanded by the repertory and the apparent capabilities of the historical singers who performed at the time.

One of the biggest challenges facing the Collegium director is that of developing an active, first-rate organization, while, at the same time, trying to avoid the creation of problematic relationships with the other ensemble directors in the department. Each will be diligently pursuing his own objectives, and it is inevitable that conflicts will arise from time to time in the schedules of students who have serious interests in two or more ensembles. What is important is that these problems be resolved given maximum concern for the student's welfare, and with the realization that Collegium activities are as valid as choral, orchestral, and operatic undertakings. Operatic productions frequently require large blocks of time from ensemble members, particularly as performance dates approach, and while a careful coordination of the local fine arts calendar can enable competing directors to avoid unnecessary clashes, each will have to be willing to understand and appreciate the other's point of view if the student is to be able to maximize the opportunities open to him. Orchestra and band directors, quick to recognize their own instrument needs, are sometimes reluctant to support the allocation of funds for the purchase of early instruments which are considered by many of them as primitive, antique curiosities that will be used to perform an outdated repertory. To overcome this misunderstanding is frequently difficult, but every successful Collegium director will need to make the necessary effort.

A Collegium organization properly developed and properly maintained is an asset to any department, and it can provide students, faculty, and the community at large with a varied set of experiences to which it would not otherwise have ready access. The Collegium, better than any other ensemble, creates an environment which allows for the systematic discovery of unknown musical masterworks. The Collegium also supports undergraduate and graduate instruction in music history and literature by providing a solid core of significant musical experiences which reinforce and indirectly validate conventional academic classroom activities. It can to great advantage function as a laboratory adjunct to lecture courses in the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Baroque, and with careful pre-planning bring to the classroom live performances of works being studied as part of a course syllabus. It can serve as a proving ground for compositions transcribed and edited by graduate students and faculty as part of theses, dissertations, and other research projects, and it can interact effectively with students enrolled in seminars in early notation. A basic collection of historical instruments is a valuable asset to any program that lists among its offerings a course in organology, particularly if those instruments can be played competently by students in the department. Techniques in sight-reading, facility with old clefs, sight transposition, and basic skills of musicianship, all can be developed and improved in the Collegium context, particularly in those sub-ensembles focusing on the sight-reading of large and representative segments of the repertory.

In part to create a performance outlet for the more qualified Collegium membership, in part to reinforce the belief in a high performance standard, and in part to demonstrate to the university community that the acquisition of early instruments and the recovery and restoration of historical masterworks is an important, if not laudable, undertaking, the Collegium Musicum should present at least one formal independent ensemble concert for its campus each semester (or quarter), and possibly during the summer as well. It should consider as well special recitals or concerts either in conjunction with some aspect of departmental research activity, dance and drama department productions, appropriate foreign language play productions, or in connection with a university or institute sponsored symposium. The Collegium might well combine energies with other performance areas of the department in order to sponsor revivals of major works either rarely heard or unavailable in modern edition, and it should prepare lecture-demonstrations for interested high schools and junior colleges as an extension of the department's recruiting program.

To develop these capabilities requires imagination, determination, and a ready willingness to depart from some of the academic traditions and customs of the past in order to meet effectively the challenges and promises of these more recently discovered musical avenues. Badly needed are changes in most departmental curriculum structures to allow for concentrations in applied musicology at all levels. The undergraduate, if he can not right away major in an early instrument, should be permitted the option of such a minor, or at least the option of satisfying an applied requirement by demonstrating performance proficiency on an historical instrument. Masters degree students could continue at more advanced levels with their instruments if staffing permitted, or, if not, they should be able to opt for a plan in musicology that would combine features of a substantial scholarly paper and a prepared and directed recital with the student alone or in combination with others. At the doctoral level, it would seem best to expand course offerings within the context of musicology, for it is in this area that most of the skills required of the Collegium director would normally be acquired.

However, traditional structures will need to be modified if the number of qualified Collegium directors is going to increase appreciably any time in the near future to meet the needs of eighty-five percent of the operating American and Canadian institutions currently without Collegium activities. Faculty should be encouraged to develop new graduate courses in historical performance practice with the assistance of summer academic development funds where possible, and these should be scheduled as part of the regular, recurring core musicology offerings in the department. Students should be permitted to opt for term projects in this area as part of pro-seminars in the Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Baroque. Special seminars in ornamentation, improvisation, figured bass, articulation, early language pronunciation (a comparative studies undertaking with several departments working together), etc., should be offered where faculty competence permits. The Collegium Musicum as an ensemble should be upgraded to a full three-hour core course on the graduate level requiring intensive study of various early instruments, development of intuitive performance techniques to match the repertory being considered, proficiency examinations in reading from old clefs, transposition, improvisation, ornamentation, realizing of figured bass, etc., extensive reading assignments, preparation of mini-concerts complete with student prepared text translations and elaborate program notes, and scholarly term papers focusing on the recovery of appropriate musicological data and its application to the performance situation. Departmental budgets allowing for the acquisition of early instrument collections, Collegium music libraries, and microform archives of relevant treatises, didactic manuals, and instrument tutors should be generous, and, particularly in initial years, these should be supplemented by university special equipment monies and other offices of foundational, state, and federal aid.

Guest lecturers with known reputations in the area of early music performance should be engaged independently, or as part of guest speaker series, to complement the department's own talent, and qualified early music performers should be engaged as part of departmental or university concert series and retained for master classes or workshops. Where possible, faculty lines should be provided for part-time staff with skills in individual early instruments, and these positions should be expanded to full-time as soon as the demand warrants. Ph.D. students in musicology should be encouraged to write dissertations dealing with various aspects of performance practice, and they should be tested on their preparedness to do so. They should also be allowed the option of a performance minor given the permission of the appropriate early instrument instructor.

Many of these suggestions, and there are more that could be made, will seem a bit radical on first reading, and in some cases they will be difficult to implement right away. Deeply entrenched departmental hierarchies will contravene profound change of any sort regardless of intrinsic merit. Collegium directors will need to be willing to sacrifice early promotion and substantial salary increase because their musicology colleagues and administrations will not recognize and appreciate the value of any of their necessary time-consuming duties. Waiting periods of early instruments from the better makers are now commonly in the area of two to four years; state institutions often find it difficult to operate under such circumstances, and an early instrument collection will not be acquired overnight. Teaching load allotments for full-fledged Collegium operations are inadequate, and they inevitably force the director into positions of compromise. Competing ensemble directors will resist Collegium initiative and only slowly and begrudgingly come to accept the new performance activity as an equal. Some applied faculty will continue to consider the early instruments as antique relics, and only reluctantly will they consider having their students take time away from their modern miracles to develop skills on outdated museum pieces.

However, despite the very real and sometimes frustrating resistance that will be encountered, a job remains to be done. Organizations like the American Musicological Society, by recently establishing a committee on the Collegium and by providing a systematic and recurring vehicle at national meetings for the presentation and exchange of ideas germane to virtually all aspects of the early music performance paradigm, have responded in an important way to the needs of the Collegium as a fledgling American institution. Journals like the College Music Symposium, Current Musicology, and the American Music Teacher, particularly in the 1960's and early 1970's, have contributed measurably to an understanding of the problems to be faced. And yet we've only begun. The January, 1974 AMS Newsletter front page announcement that performances of the music of Dufay and his contemporaries would be given by various Collegia at the 1974 meeting in Washington generated a grand total of fifteen audition tapes for the Concert Selection Committee. And while by no means an accurate measure of the level of Collegium activities on all American campuses, these few tapes, in view of the tremendous incentive that a Washington meeting should have provided to Collegium directors and students alike to become directly involved, do suggest something of the distance we have yet to travel in the area of early music performance. Hundreds of still undiscovered masterpieces remain untapped, early music delicacies untouched for centuries, awaiting restoration to the medium of living sound. This music should profoundly affect the lives of many more than it does, and every possible effort should be made to recover and restore to life these deserving masterworks in what must be viewed as the culminating commitment of the musicological process.

Read 900 times

Last modified on Monday, 12/11/2018

Go to top