It’s a season of anniversaries for Musica da Camera.
The five-member ensemble that specializes in medieval and Renaissance music will turn 50 on Jan. 16, and a month later, they will reach the 40-year milestone for “Continuum,” their Sunday radio program on WWNO.
Co-directors Milton G. Scheuermann Jr. and Thais St. Julien both agreed, “It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Musica da Camera inaugurates its 50th season Sunday afternoon, Sept. 27, with a free concert at the St. Joseph Abbey Church in St. Benedict, just outside Covington. The concert, “Wave, Leaf & Stone: Images of Medieval Song,” will be reprised on successive Sundays at the Ursuline Chapel of Our Lady of Prompt Succor National Shrine and at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, both in New Orleans.
During its traditional three-concert season in three separate venues, MDC will present its annual Christmas Concert on Nov. 29, Dec. 6 and 13, and its Spring Concert on April 10, 17 and 24.
In addition to Scheuermann, who plays recorders, and St. Julien on percussion and vocals, the ensemble includes 39-year member Bryce Reveley on harp, Joseph Darensbourg on lute and Charlotte Pipes on vocals. The group employs a women’s vocal ensemble, Vox Feminae, founded by St. Julien in 1994. They will accompany the core group for the last two concerts of the season.
St. Julien, a soprano, is second in seniority in the group, having joined MDC in 1974.
“Researching and performing the music of the 10th through 16th centuries, the group is dedicated to making that music current and living for listeners of the 21st century,” is how Musica da Camera describes itself on its website.
In addition to maintaining a library of thousands of records, CDs, books and musical scores, Musica da Camera has recorded six CDs on the Centaur label and several others on its own Belle Alliance label.
The first series of concerts that begins this weekend features six individual pieces that date from the 1100s through the 1300s and a seventh grouping, titled “Siete cantigas d’amigo” (Seven Songs of a Friend). The seven cantigas, composed in the 13th century by Martin Codax, will be sung without interruption by St. Julien and Pipes, with Darensbourg joining them on the refrains.
“The contigas comprise the earliest song cycle from the 13th century,” Scheuermann said. “We are doing the seven songs in sequence, going from one to the next without pause. The text of all of them refers to a lady who’s waiting for her lover to return from the Sea of Vigo in northwest Spain.
“The texts are very similar. They say, ‘I wish my love would return and I’ll be waiting for him’ or something like that. And then the refrain at the end of each song is repeated.”
The group performed the piece in 2000 and again in 2006. “At that time, I was the only one who sang this,” St. Julien said. “Now we’ve got several people who’ll be doing the same thing.”
Scheuermann said they originally had no music to accompany the lyrics and St. Julien had to write the music for the pieces.
“We have no way of knowing whether instruments were involved or whether they were just sung,” Scheuermann said. “The songs themselves are relatively short. Some are only two lines long.” The lyrics, he said, will be sung in the Spanish Catalan dialect.
The full translations of the lyrics will be in the program given out at the upcoming concerts.
Other pieces to be performed on the program are by medieval French, German and Italian composers; some known, some anonymous. One piece, “O virga ac diadema,” was composed in praise of the Mother of God by St. Hildegard of Bingen (1098-1179). It will be followed by a dance Scheuermann composed based on the piece.
This series of concerts and all others this season are free of charge and open to the public.