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The Marian Consort: Music through the Centuries

By Melanie Zebrowski, Library Specialist in the Marian Library

Have you ever wondered what kind of music was sung in cathedrals during the Renaissance? A concert on Oct. 18 by the Marian Consort, an internationally renowned early-music vocal ensemble, gave attendees the answer. The performance — the second of two celebrating the Marian Library’s 75th anniversary in 2018 — took the capacity crowd in UD’s Chapel of the Immaculate Conception back in time with a multitude of hymns sung in Latin, English, and French, all honoring Blessed Virgin Mary.

Specializing in liturgical music from the 15th through the 18th centuries and taking their name from the Blessed Mother, the group creates music using only their voices — no instruments. The evening was transformed into something of wonder with the harmonious voices resounding throughout the chapel. Mesmerized, the audience listened to versions of Ave Maria and the Magnificat as well as more obscure works by composers such as William Byrd and Thomas Tallis. Their voices blended together so purely and effortlessly that it was a calming, almost meditative experience for those who were present. Students in attendance gave wonderful feedback:

  • “I have never heard such beautiful singing before. This was an extraordinary experience and definitely brought me into the presence of the sacred.”
  • “It was a surreal performance. Truly one of the best experiences involving faith and music I have had in my life thus far.”
  • “The Marianist tradition is alive in this place.”

For the Marian Library, comments like these make the work we are doing worthwhile. We recognize the value and importance of connecting the past with the present, and during such a pivotal year, we have strived to find meaningful ways to bring Marian art to life.

Before the concert, the Marian Consort toured the library and saw some of the oldest books and sheet music in our collection. They discussed the long history of Marian music, as well as its future. Although so much music from centuries past has been lost or forgotten, libraries play an important role in preserving what remains and ensuring its accessibility for generations to come. Singers who specialize in early music have an equally important job of sharing these pieces through the medium they were originally intended for. The performance of these pieces brought them to life again.

Music and religion classes also benefited from the Marian Consort’s visit to UD. Rory McCleery, the group’s director, led a masterclass for the University Chorale, giving expert advice on reading deeper into the musical works and the importance of group synchronization during vocal performances. In a combined session of courses in music history and religious studies, McCleery gave a lecture on the evolution of Marian music, explaining how changes in culture and religion can influence musical styles; with the help of the rest of the ensemble, he demonstrated these distinct differences from throughout the centuries.

From medieval times to the Renaissance, through the English Reformation and to the present day, every piece of Marian music is a representation of history and the time period in which it was created. We are grateful to the Marian Consort for performing such incredible music that may otherwise be lost to time and would like to extend our thanks to all those who helped make this event possible.

If you would like to hear the Marian Consort for yourself, the group has released nine CDs to date, one of which is titled Music for the Queen of Heaven. More information can be found on their website. We wish this amazing group of singers luck during the rest of their North American debut.

Check out our photo gallery for highlights from the concert.

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