If you’re not one of the 10-15 people who regularly attend rehearsals, chances are you probably don’t know much about the Trent Madrigal Choir.
In addition to the concert choir, concert band, and jazz band, the madrigal choir is one of the four groups funded by the Trent Music Society. It’s also the oldest musical group at Trent.
“The 16th century stuff that we do are basically songs of love, and of war,” says Choir Director Peter MacKinnon, of the madrigal pieces the choir performs. They’re anywhere from three to eight choral parts, traditionally done unaccompanied, but backed by a pianist in the case of the choir at Trent.
The bulk of their repertoire hails from the golden age of choral music; around the late 16th century. However, the group does sing a few contemporary pieces, performing “O Canada” at the presidential installation in September, as well as “God Save the Queen” at Trent’s 50th anniversary weekend.
“One small issue is the fact that a fair amount of our stuff tends to be religious,” says MacKinnon, of the traditional pieces the choir performs. “This is simply a fact of history, ‘cause the secular stuff didn’t get written down.” He says that they’ve made every effort to be as inclusive as possible in the search for new pieces, but it has sometimes been difficult to find choral music from other traditions. “We’ve had some Islamic music, some Hindu, a fair amount of Jewish music, and a bit of Indigenous music.”
He feels that it’s important to experience music based from a variety of cultures, even though the Trent Madrigal choir isn’t affiliated with any tradition in particular. “A lot of people think that if you’re not a group that is based originally in one of those traditions, you shouldn’t be performing it,” MacKinnon explains. “It’s the same as saying, ‘clarinets shouldn’t be playing Bach, that instrument wasn’t invented until after he died’. Are we not allowed to experience the music of another tradition?”
The choir tries to stay true to the historical source material of these traditional pieces, performing in the original language whenever possible. They have sung in French, German, Latin, and English.
However, being faithful to history does have its downfalls. “That’s the other area that’s been a bone of contention,” says MacKinnon of the outdated prejudices in some of the pieces they perform, such as the prevalent sexism of 500 years ago.
“Occasionally we’ll change the language to get an inclusive pronoun. Often we’ll preface it at a concert by saying that no one in their right mind would be using these words today, but it’s important that we realize that this did exist.”
The madrigal choir has performed at a number of events throughout the area, both local and otherwise. In addition to functions at Trent mentioned above, they also perform at other local events like the Festival of Trees and the Peterborough Kiwanis Festival. The choir has also participated in the Toronto Kiwanis Festival and the Ontario Vocal Festival, as well as performing for a senior’s home or two.
“Anybody who takes the trouble [to participate] is committed, and that’s really satisfying work,” says MacKinnon of the choir members. He explains how the smaller group is generally pretty tight-knit, and the discourse is good among the little community. “It’s the most democratic music organization you’ll ever see,” he says, “Last week at rehearsal we looked at six things for this term, and said ‘what do you think’. People said ‘these five are good, but this one is awful’, so we’re not gonna do it. It’s a great relationship.”
Madrigal choir practices are Thursdays from 8-9:30pm at Peter MacKinnon’s home in Peterborough. If you’re interested in joining, keep an eye out for sign-up in the winter semester. Contact [email protected] for more information.