Multi-Media Project Brings 15th-Century Processional to Life

Posted June 30th, 2015 at 4:52 pm.

Last summer, a small manuscript volume of liturgical music and prayers found a new home in Bryn Mawr’s Special Collections. Copied in the 15th century for a nun in the royal abbey of St.-Louis at Poissy, the processional contains the plainchant music for daily Dominican observance and includes prayers and music for special events like the reception of a new nun into the convent. The book’s portable format—5.25 by 3.5 inches—reflects its use by the convent’s choir and the hours spent holding it as its owner sang the liturgy.

A purchase of the Seymour Adelman Fund, the processional has never been published or even fully described. So, since its acquisition, Nava Streiter, a Ph.D. candidate in the history of art, has been poring over the manuscript, and overseeing work on a website that will feature a full digitization of the manuscript and a variety of supplementary educational and illustrative materials.

Assisting Streiter with the website are Calla Carter ’18 and Haverford student Connor Cassidy. Grace Garrett ’17 notated the music for modern performance, while Luca d’Anselmi, a graduate student in Classics, transcribed the text. Kyra Neiman ’17 created a video documenting the project. The work is being funded in part by a Tri-Co Digital Humanities grant.

In addition to its online presence, the processional is getting a new lease on its traditional life. John Andrew Bailey, the director of the Renaissance Choir, transcribed the first few pieces of music for modern singers, and this spring, Haverford music professor Tom Lloyd led a choir, recruited from the Chamber Singers and the Renaissance Choir, in a performance of the book’s Candlemas service. That festival, which commemorates the infant Jesus’s presentation at the temple, is traditionally preceded by a candle-lit procession. To capture something of the character of Candlemas, the singers, with lanterns in hand, began their performance with a processional into Goodhart Music Room.

In November, the Binchois Consort, an English vocal group that specializes in music of the Renaissance and earlier, will be in residence at Haverford College. They will perform a program of 15th-century polyphonic music; work with several groups and classes, including Haverford professor Richard Freedman’s Renaissance music class; and, if all goes as planned, conduct a workshop centered around the Poissy manuscript.

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