Female vocals groups to show the devil doesn’t have all the best music

GEORGE HARRISON sang “My sweet Lord”. St Augustine said: “To sing is to pray twice”, while Islamic Sufis and Native American holy men dance and sing themselves into trances, leading to religious ecstasy.

“There is the music of Heaven in all things and we have forgotten how to hear it until we sing,” so said Hildegard von Bingen, the early 12th century visionary nun whose own vocal and musical compositions will be performed in Galway as the opening concert of The Galway Early Music Festival.

Cantoral and Vox Prophetica will perform songs by Hildegard, as well as chant and polyphany from the 11th to the 13th century on Friday May 28 at 1pm in the chapel of the Poor Clares on Nuns Island.

Cantoral is a female schola, specialising in Western plainchant and early polyphony, with a particular interest in Mediaeval Irish repertoire. The ensemble was formed in 2008 at the Irish World Academy, University of Limerick, and had its first international appearance in March 2009 at the Centre Culturel Irlandais in Paris.

The artistic director of Cantoral, Catherine Sergent, is an acclaimed early music singer who has performed and recorded extensively with several early music ensembles.

Vox Prophetica was formed by current students of the second year of the BA in voice and dance programme at the Irish World Academy. They use a post-modern approach to contemporary chant performance that explores the emotions the words and music of these chants carry. Vox prophetica is directed by Oscar Mascareñas.

Religious singing, such as the chant liturgy of the Western Christian church, has an unbroken tradition as far back as the first century AD - St Paul in his letter to the Philippians, written c62 AD, quotes from a hymn which was already being sung by an early Christian community.

Musical notation of chant is found in manuscripts of the ninth century on, starting from staffless neums (where the movement but not the exact notes are indicated ) to the classic manuscripts of Gregorian chant, with their typical square notes and four line staff.

Musicologists have been working on discovering ways of reading and interpreting the earlier manuscripts while looking at living chant traditions. Cantoral and Vox Prophetica perform chant with a sound knowledge of the manuscript traditions and a good ear for oral traditions, giving a rich interpretation to this very powerful performance tradition.

As well as the more familiar single line chant, this performance features early polyphony, or multiple line music, in which one line is based on a known chant, while the other lines provide an interweaving countermelody.

Exotic and soaring, thoughtful and moving, this concert will be a special occasion. And you will hear compositions by Hildegard von Bingen who composed her soaring chant inspired by visions and ecstasies.

Hildegard is one of the earliest and most prolific female composers whose work we still have. Her view of music as the voice of God was at polar opposites to those who felt music was the work of the Devil (such people have always been about ) and is demonstrated powerfully in her liturgical drama Ordo Virtutum where the young female protagonist and the Virtues all sing, but the Devil can only speak.

Tickets are €15/11 and there is a special €5 ticket for children. For more information, programme, and ticket booking see www.galwayearlymusic.com

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