March 24, 2004
The internationally acclaimed medieval music ensemble Anonymous 4 will be in residence at The Catholic University of America from March 29 through April 2 as part of the interdisciplinary course Sacred and Secular Music in Medieval Culture.
The week-in-residence will mark the fourth visit the four members of Anonymous 4 have made this semester to CUA, where they are sharing their research and performance expertise with students as part of the new sacred and secular music course. From 3 to 5 p.m. on Friday, April 2, the group’s four members will offer a Master Class with Anonymous 4, offering instruction on singing in Latin, particularly chant, liturgical drama and polyphony. The class is free and open to the public. (Participants must reserve space by calling 202-319-5416).
“Bringing in Anonymous 4 offers students a wonderful opportunity for coaching from popular scholar-performers at the top of their field,” says musicologist Grayson Wagstaff, associate professor of music, who organized the course and master class along with modern languages Professor Joan Grimbert. “And we’re pleased to be able to open up their last master class to the general public — it’s not often that people can be instructed by musicians who have achieved this level of expertise, acclaim and success.”
Anonymous 4 has sold more than 1.1 million recordings worldwide. Known for their recordings and performances of medieval chant and polyphony, the ensemble performs throughout the world and has participated in workshops and residencies on various college campuses. This year the group is on a “farewell tour” after 17 years of singing, recording and touring together.
Between performances this spring, they have been visiting CUA to talk with students, touching on the issues facing women, racism and the interaction of Christianity, Islam and Judaism in medieval music, among other topics. On Valentine’s Day the four women singers performed before a standing-room-only crowd in the Crypt Church of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception.
Music, its liturgical roots, and the role it played across European cultures in the 11th through 15th centuries are being studied in the sacred and secular music course, which also explores how philosophy, theology, literature, art and architecture were linked with music in the medieval mind. In addition, the course highlights the musical contributions of various ethnic and religious groups — and of women as patrons, composers and performers. Anonymous 4 was one of the first modern ensembles of women to perform chant and early polyphony, and in the process challenged the perception that such harmonies were performed strictly by men at public church services in the middle ages.
The course is being team-taught by faculty from the schools of music, philosophy, and arts and sciences (including the latter’s departments of modern languages, Greek and Latin, history and art). In addition, a few classes are being taught by CUA alumni who are recognized scholars in medieval research and by faculty from other institutions.
The premise of the course is “that music can be used as an exciting vehicle to teach medieval culture in a creative way that integrates disciplines of the humanities and highlights the intersection of various cultures and religions,” Grimbert says. “We hope that by combining these disciplines in this innovative way, students will be able to transcend the artificial categories and boundaries that modern scholars have imposed on the study of medieval culture.”
CUA has long been a center for study of Gregorian chant and medieval culture, including its interdisciplinary dimension. The university offers programs in Medieval and Byzantine Studies and Early Christian Studies; The Benjamin T. Rome School of Music has traditionally been an important site for musicological research in chant and sacred polyphony from the medieval and Renaissance periods. The CANTUS database, considered by medievalists to be one of the most innovative and influential tools for researching Gregorian chant and liturgy, was developed at CUA by Professor Emerita Ruth Steiner and CUA graduate students in collaboration with an international group of contributing scholars.
Finally, the music school recently announced the creation of the Institute for Sacred Music, intended as a community of scholars and performers devoted to learning about music and liturgy. The center will hold its inauguration week, featuring performances, lectures and other celebratory events, the week of July 12-16, 2004.
MEDIA: For more information about the sacred and secular music course, the master class with Anonymous 4, or to arrange interviews, contact Chris Harrison or Katie Lee in the CUA Office of Public Affairs at 202-319-5600.
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