Forty-five minutes of chamber choral music isn’t how most college students anticipate spending the waning hours of their Sunday afternoons. But the Elon University Camerata held a “short and sweet spring concert” April 11 in Whitley Auditorium.
With the theme “The Birds and the Bees,” the Camerata sang a cappella love songs and madrigals from the 13th through 15th centuries. Sounds sweet, until the lyrics are translated from the original Italian, French or Spanish.
“I’ll let you re-read the Canterbury Tales,” said director Steven Futrell, associate professor of music.
Whereas the lyric “come away, sweet love, and play,” from the 1604 madrigal “Come Away, Sweet Love” by Thomas Greaves may sound tame compared to lines from Lady Gaga’s “Love Game,” those medieval lines likely had as shocking of an effect as those of modern artists do today.
The Camerata, which does not always perform medieval choral pieces or in an a cappella style, performed admirably under Futrell’s direction. With a single reference note at the beginning of each song, the 28-member Camerata sang centuries-old music in four different languages and hardly missed a beat. Unlike the better-known groups on campus Sweet Signatures, Twisted Measure, or Rip_Chord the Camerata did not have any soloists at this recital, allowing the soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices to blend into a single sound.
The pieces ranged from upbeat to somber and even some that ran the gamut within a single song. The first arrangement, “El Grillo” by Josquin des Prez, was the peppy and perhaps even danceable song of the love-lorn cricket, followed immediately by solemn tones in “Il Bianco e Dolce Cigno,” a song of a dying swan.
Other songs such as “Je le Vous Dirai!” by Pierre Ceron and “Cucu, Cucu!” by Juan del Encina told the story of cuckolds, married men with adulterous wives, and ensuing scandal. “Je le Dous Dirai!” even translates to “Do I Dare Not Say It!” referencing its gossipy subject.
As an audition group, the Camerata attracts and keeps motivated and talented students, and tours both the immediate area around Elon and farther around the country. The Camerata hosts an annual a cappella holiday concert in the winter, and they along with the university orchestra and chorale will join together for a concert on April 29.
But the group performed well on its own and made what could have been stale chants from the era of Shakespeare relevant and even cool for today’s college culture. The best part of the Camerata? According to Futrell, the selection of music is whatever he thinks of at the time. So a Camerata concert will always be different and new.