Cal Poly’s Early Music Ensemble will sing light-hearted and “naughty” French songs which tell stories of love and war this Friday in the Christopher Cohan Performing Arts Center for their final performance of the year.
The 16-member group is made up of a choir class offered in the music department. The singers will perform French songs, called chansons. Music junior Natalie de Bruijn has been singing with the choir since her freshman year. She said some of the songs are romantic and others a little risqué.
“The lyrics can be very sexual. A lot of frolicking in the hay stuff,” de Bruijn said.
The songs were popular during the French Renaissance. The music for this concert tells stories of 16th-century France. Music professor and choir director Thomas Davies said it was the music of the people and for the most part, the light-hearted.
The ensemble is known for singing in foreign languages. Last year they did performances in Italian and Spanish. The group toured California missions and sang works that hadn’t been heard in nearly 300 years, de Bruijn said. But students learn more than how to sing old songs in Early Music Ensemble.
The class focuses on music between the 13th and 18th centuries. Music junior Lisa Figel said it is a combination of activity and lecture because they learn about the history of the songs, not just the singing.
“We learn the background of the song and it helps us appreciate the music more,” Figel said.
This is the first time they have sung in French since she’s been a part of the choir, she said. The students have to dedicate a lot of outside hours to learning the lyrics and perfecting pronunciation.
The class is also different from most because students don’t sign up for it and it is very limited in size. Students are invited by music professor Thomas Davies to join the class through an auditioning process. Davies said the size is based on the era of music when groups tended to be smaller.
Figel and de Bruijn said they were excited to be asked to join the group as freshmen, since it’s a special opportunity few are presented with. Being a part of a small group allows the students to get to know one another better and focus on the details of the music they are learning, electrical engineering senior John Cape said. The students have been working together on songs for this performance since December of last year.
The performance is bittersweet for Cape because it will be his last. He graduates at the end of the quarter, opening one of those coveted spots among singers on campus.
Cape said he thinks students will enjoy the show because all modern music can be historically traced to the songs they will be singing. Cape said his favorite of the set is the big piece of the night, Renaissance composer Clément Janequin’s “La Guerre.” “La Guerre” is a song about the French-Swiss battle in 1515 during the Italian Wars, when the French came out victorious after the Swiss betrayed a treaty. De Bruijn said the song is unique because they use their voices to create the sound effects of war.
The choir will share what they’ve learned through the year at this week’s performance, which will include historical context for the music from Davies. The concert is May 21 at 8 p.m. in the PAC. Tickets are $12 for general admission, $8 for students and seniors.
“It’s fun to do something different. You don’t always get to mimic bullets and bombs when you’re singing,” de Bruijn said.