The Schola Cantorum

The Department of Music is home to a very special choir: the Schola Cantorum, a 16 strong all-female choir specialising in medieval music.

Under the guidance of senior lecturer and medieval music specialist Dr Emma Hornby, the Schola Cantorum focuses particularly on Old Hispanic and Gregorian chant.

"I set up the choir in 2007 as there was a bit of a gap in the department. There is a wide variety of choirs, open to all, but too few spaces in the high level choirs for the keen singers among the female music undergraduates. The result was that the Schola Cantorum was born. I didn’t originally intend to link the choir to my work; however, it soon became clear that the choir could illustrate my research to a wide range of audiences through public workshops and concerts. The volume of these has grown over time and the choir is now well-known for its outreach role" - Dr Emma Hornby

The choir’s first big moment came when it contributed to a concert by David Allinson’s professional chamber choir, Cantores, at St Mary Redcliffe Church in Bristol in 2008. This was the choir’s first performance outside the department, and it was received to great acclaim. Subsequently, Emma included the choir in a research project on Old Hispanic Chant, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and Economic and Social Research Council (ERSC) Religion and Society Programme, in which the choir was involved in various public events in Bristol, London and Leeds. As the following quote illustrates, the public both enjoyed and were very touched by the performances.

"I wanted to let you know how beautiful I thought the service on Saturday night was. I found it a deeply spiritual and moving experience. It is proof that the fruit of your research can have a profound effect on people today, 1000+ years on, and what better reason to pursue it can there be?" - Participant in 2010 public workshop and meditation at St Mary Redcliffe

"The choir provides an accessible and enjoyable way of demonstrating research to lay audiences” said Emma. “Their involvement here is crucial."

As well as being a mechanism for communicating research, the choir is also becoming a focus for research within the department, as other students compose pieces specifically for them. In 2010-11, an MA student put on a series of concerts, one of which was made up of pieces written specifically for the Schola, inspired by early medieval polyphony (which the choir also sang in the same concert).

"There’s something about the experience of singing chant and medieval music that is truly spiritual" said Emma. "It releases endorphins and seems to inspire people. It’s amazingly transformative. If using the Schola to communicate my research has this effect on different audiences and through this, they gain an understanding of medieval music, then that makes it even more worthwhile.”

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