The November/December issue of Choral Journal is online and features an article titled “Examining Choral Music with a Rhetorical Perspective: A Practical Guide” by Gary Seighman. You can read it in its entirety at acda.org/choraljournal. Following is the article’s introduction:
The pandemic has challenged all of us in our pursuit of personal connection. Rehearsing via Zoom or in large spaces while masked and socially distanced has created many impediments between our singers. These can decrease the expressive potential of the music that we perform and even affect our ability to empathize with one another. This article will look at another form of social distancing that we have been encountering long before 2020: the performance of music written centuries ago in different cultural contexts than today.
A Renaissance motet written 500 years ago in what is now Northern Germany, for example, challenges us to translate the intended effect for twenty-first-century minds and ears. Instead of just a mask on our face, our entire perception of this “distanced” music is filtered through a modern lens often divorced from the practices of the time. The Greco-Roman tradition of rhetoric (from the Greek rhētorikós) or “the art of persuasion” was one of these fundamental components embedded in the overall consciousness of sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. In fact, between 1400 and 1700 there were approximately 2,000 books published on the topic of rhetoric, which sought to create convincing narratives through carefully crafted speech techniques. Rhetoric and oratorical delivery permeated Renaissance and Baroque era thought, and music compositional practices would have equally been attuned to these ideals that were “in the air.”
This article will provide examples of how to decode compositional elements in this repertoire through a rhetorical perspective and offer another tool for its interpretation.
Read the full article in the November/December 2021 issue of Choral Journal at acda.org/choraljournal