Thoughts in response to the Boston Camerata concert at Union College

by Evan Tublitz—-This past Sunday, we were treated to the venerable Boston Camerata who performed their annual Christmas concert at Union College Concerts in the Memorial Chapel. They are in their 60th year, founded by Joel Cohen, and are celebrating their 25th year at Union College on the concert series there.

Union College Memorial ChapelUnion College Concert Series

As always, we expect to hear impeccable early music interpretations of vocal artistry with period instruments from the medieval period through the early Baroque. But this year, we were treated to a special program of early American Christmas music with period brass quartet accompaniment.

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As noted in their mission statement:
“The Boston Camerata preserves and reawakens human memory as expressed through the art of music.

It accomplishes this mission through live, historically informed, professional performances of European music of the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque areas and early American music; through study and research into musical sources of the past; through sound recordings and media projects; and through community outreach and musical education.”

Boston Camerata

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Boston Camerata sings American Christmas
To say it was gorgeous and moving is truly an understatement. Every year, the audience is charmed, blessed, enchanted, cajoled to sing along, and brought into the spirit of the Christmas holiday through words and music from the distant past. Interestingly, when we are presented with medieval and early music from the 12th through 16th centuries in Europe, we are often treated with words in Latin, French, Spanish, German, Arabic and are shown a culture with which we may not be too conversant or familiar; but always entertained.

However, this year was different in that it was words and music from OUR AMERICAN distant past! But, in this case, we were presented with OUR musical and devotional heritage and it was beguiling to say the least! The mission of the Boston Camerata “…to reawaken human memory as expressed through the art of music” was evident and distinctly felt. From my vantage point, sitting on the side in the front of the Chapel, I had the pleasure of being able to gaze at the audience and witnessed that many of them felt as I did – moved by a latent American archetype within me being awakened to my own cultural past.

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Songs of praise and descriptions of the events of the Christmas story being told by our forebears through these ‘time travelers’ – bringing us in contact with those who struggled and risked so much to make a life in a New Land. Their manner of speech and melodies poignantly brought to light their obvious empathy and compassion for the struggles of that early couple and their child born in a stable. The humility and heartfelt expression of simplicity by these people in Colonial America hit a deep chord within me – making me aware that hardship and turmoil is a common human experience. Herod ordering the massacre of the Innocents (children under 2 yrs old) is no different than what is going on today in the Middle East, Ukraine and Africa. People are still enslaved and subjected to such horrors as in the past!

But, this music of these people, who were subjected to hardships yet tied deeply to their religion with hope for salvation, expressed both empathy and deep gratitude in supplication to their God. These feelings were communicated simply as they were often dedicated to a life of simplicity – as many of the songs were Shaker songs.

As I looked around, I was struck how the expressions of our American ancestors hit a chord with the audience in 2014. At times, people smiled, were in awe, clearly moved, and one could feel a palpable closeness and bond that developed. It was apparent that our forebears had spoken through these eloquent musicians to create a connection that broke the limitations of time and space. In fact, for some moments, we WERE our ancestors and they were US. The medium for this alchemy was the incredible musicianship and expressivity of the performers.

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At the end of the concert, we sang, along with the performers, a familiar and well-known Christmas hymn and it was evident that most had felt something had taken place. The faces beamed, their inner sentiments apparent, and the applause erupted!

Maybe that is the reason why music expresses things words cannot do alone. When one experiences a performance of music of another time, we are actually transported back in time to experience, in real time, the emotions of another era – only to discover that they are OUR emotions as well!

Happy Holidays to each of you and wishes for much needed Peace in 2015!
As always, feel free to contact me if you have any piano questions.

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