True Musicianship is about the Process
April 10, 2023
There’s nothing quite like music ringing throughout a chapel, of voices harmonizing together to breathe life into mere notes on a page. Just fourteen students, a pianist, and polyphonic Latin.
Ranging from Baroque and Renaissance, to 21st century music, the University’s newborn vocal ensemble, Millikin Camerata, is a sight to behold – well, more so a sound to bask in.
Inspired by Tutor Voices, one of Millikin’s previous vocal ensembles, along with England’s magnificent cathedrals, a group of talented and unique individuals came together and created a group to honor music of early times.
Baroque music is often associated with church organs, choir voices – even metallic-sounding harpsichords–many deeming it “boring” or “icky old-person music.” However, if one were to take a closer listen, they would realize how intricate, detailed, and harmonic pieces from this time period truly are.
“It’s not all about the excellent music that we make,” Spencer Domer, a Vocal Performance major and president of the group, said. “It’s about giving way to have that experience of extreme hard sight-reading, hard musicianship and ensemble building.”
This is an important component for being a musician, especially when in an ensemble setting. While the final product is performing what has been polished and labored over for weeks, it’s the process which helps to cultivate musicianship.
Rehearsing twice a week, beginning at the start of the semester, the dedicated group of singers have learned and sung through seven vocally taxing, and musically difficult pieces.
“Our rehearsals pretty much consist of ‘sing it until it’s right,’” Domer said. “So it’s a lot of fun. But if that one person messes up, or if this one soprano messes up, it’s just a cascading effect.
“We chose the hard repertoire because we can trust them, all the student’s drive is insane for this ensemble. We’ll throw a piece in front of them, and we’ll stumble through it the first time, but then they’ll go out and they’ll learn it by themselves.”
From freshman to seniors, English to Vocal Education majors, the ensemble’s goal is to “have deep roots in the Decatur community that hopefully spread to greater Central Illinois,” Domer said.
“The true musicianship comes out when you’re not singing with a blank face. It’s, ‘Oh, he just cracked a joke.’ Then singing. Just like beautiful sounds coming from everybody, and I’m so excited to see where it can go,” Domer said. “I’m very proud of what we’ve done.”
“A great mentor of mine told me that, in the field of music education, the best step you can take is to get as much experience as possible, as fast as you can,” Tad Daniels, a Music Education major and Vice President of the ensemble, said.
Daniels had directed church choirs and other ensembles in high school, so when Domer asked him to be part of the group, he was more than excited. “I was like, ‘Yeah sure!’ I love early music.”
One of the most impressive things the vocalists in Millikin Camerata have accomplished is singing professional-level music. Many pieces in their repertoire are written for double-choir, meaning it’s usually done with thirty members or more, with eight parts split between them. And although it’s not a class, the students are deeply dedicated and passionate about what they’re singing together.
As the only venture on campus dedicated to this style of music, it’s no easy undertaking. “Spencer and Tad have taken on the lion’s share of the responsibilities for it,” Professor Widelitz, the faculty advisor of Millikin Camerata, said. “As an educator you always love to see that. You love to see students just being self-starting and taking responsibility and doing things themselves. That’s really our entire mission, so it’s awesome to see it happening right here and now.”
Garnering over 120 Instagram followers in the first three weeks, Millikin Camerata has started their semester with vigor. With many events taking place in the coming weeks and months, hiring people on, and basically taking over the venture entirely, the vocal ensemble is certain to succeed.
“I’m just thrilled with the level of student ownership,” Widelitz said. Both Domer and Daniels have truly shown their leadership skills, passion for music, and maturity working in conjunction with other students to showcase the majestic vocal repertoire of the 16th and 17th century.