Penn Ancient Voices

by Roopa Shankar

On Sunday, I decided to attend the Penn Ancient Voices concert. Although my primary motivation for attending the concert was for the second concert review assignment, I truly believe that I would have attended even if I didn’t have to write the review. This made me think about how much MUSC 030 has changed my perceptions of music, especially “ancient” music.

I used to be extremely closed-minded when it came to music. I liked my mainstream music and then my classical music (and that’s only because I’ve been an instrumentalist for almost my whole life), but that was it. Electronic music? No. Country music? So weird. Opera music? Even weirder.

Now I listen to lieds, watch operas and musicals in my free time, absolutely love Gregorian chant and motets and renaissance mass music, and listen to arias while I get ready for class in the morning. How times have changed.

I thought it was especially interesting that I enjoyed the Penn Ancient Voices concert so much, considering how my 17-year old self would probably laugh at my now 19-year old self. I’m so glad that I’ve reached the point in my life where I can truly say that I appreciate all forms of music. I’ve become one of the most open-minded music listeners, and I feel as though being so open with the kinds of music I listen to has helped to enrich my life in so many different ways. There are emotions that opera music make me feel that a mainstream pop music piece cannot make me feel. There are certain days where country music just fits. And even though I am not a spiritual person whatsoever, I still completely and wholeheartedly feel the beauty of Renaissance mass music or religious Gregorian chant.

What I loved most about the fact that I enjoyed the Penn Ancient Voices concert so much was the fact that I understood not a single word of what they were singing; I followed along with the text in my program for bits and pieces of it, but mostly I got tired of staring down at my program and instead wanted to just relax and enjoy the beautiful melismas and the polyphonic melodies and the blending and merging of high female voices and stable lower male voices. To me that is a testament to the fact that there is something so appealing to me about this style of music, and this power and allure transcends the lyrics.

If you don’t know about Penn Ancient Voices already, here is a shameless plug: they are a select acapella chorus of 20 to 25 voices, and they perform music of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, including Gregorian Chant and music from the likes of Dufay, Josquin (!), Gibbons, and Byrd. They perform two concerts a year, and I definitely will be at the next one! It’ll be interesting to see how my taste in music changes over the upcoming years, especially as I continue to explore new genres of music. I definitely encourage you to check out Penn Ancient Voices during your time at Penn!

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