It’s a cliché that Oberlin changes your life. Less overstated but no less true is the notion that singing in Collegium Musicum under the direction of Steven Plank does the same. Just ask any of the 70-plus singers who will return to Oberlin the weekend of November 6 to celebrate Plank’s 25th year with the ensemble.
“It’s hard to overestimate the importance that Collegium and Dr. Plank had on my life,” says Christopher Macklin ’04.
“Dr. Plank was such a huge influence on my musical education that there’s not much I wouldn’t do to support him or celebrate his legacy,” David Crean ’06 writes.
“Collegium was more than just pleasurable, more than just meaningful—it was also a transformative education,” according to Zoe Weiss ’07.
Or, in the simple formulation of Martha Cargo ’07: “There’s nothing like it.”
To them and to so many others, there’s something ineffable about congregating in Fairchild Chapel every Monday and Wednesday to blend voices in polyphony, with the bearded, bow-tied, blue-blazered Plank at the helm, peppering his musical directives with witticisms. “There’s this remarkable joy of music-making because everyone is there because they want to be there doing it,” Plank says.
The excitement extends all the way to Plank, Oberlin’s Andrew B. Meldrum Professor of Musicology, who became director of Collegium 10 years into an Oberlin career that has reached 35 years and counting. “Directing Collegium was an opportunity that very much made Oberlin rather more special for me,” he says in his warmly enunciated, enchantingly proper brand of English.
And the opportunity to celebrate 25 years of it?
“This is just as blissful a possibility as I can imagine.”
Plank envisions the weekend as “like a family reunion with rather a lot of music,” with a banquet, lunch with current Collegium members, and rehearsals that will culminate in an ambitious concert in the conservatory’s Warner Concert Hall at 8 p.m. Saturday, November 7. Never one to choose easy repertoire—“We have done pieces that I never dreamed I would get to do”—Plank will lead alumni in a 40-part motet by Alessandro Striggio, 12-voice pieces by Guerrero and Gombert, and music from Bruckner, Rheinberger, and Biebl.
Just in time for the festivities, a new CD of selections from recent Collegium concerts will be available throughout the weekend and through Conservatory Audio Services.
Plank’s programs and intellectual enthusiasms are a powerfully influential part of Collegium. Just as he was shaped by a college mentor who still “travels along in my consciousness a lot when I’m conducting,” many former Collegium members often recall Plank’s lessons in their careers now.
Christopher Macklin is an assistant professor of musicology at the University of Illinois, where he teaches music he was first exposed to by Plank and where he directs an ensemble he deferentially calls “’Collegium Lite.’”
Zoe Weiss emphasizes “the way Collegium straddles the nexus of music-making and music-thinking,” an integration of performance and scholarship that she continues to strive for as a viola da gambist and PhD candidate in musicology at Cornell University. Most members rejoice in the exposure to unfamiliar repertoire they might never have encountered on their own.
Collegium's joy of music-making and music-thinking is complemented by the social bonds it fosters, nurtured by post-concert parties each semester at “Casa Planka,” tours to sing in churches in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C., among other cities, and ensemble traditions like the provision of elaborate food and gifts for sectionals.
David Crean—making sure to note that he is wearing his beloved T-shirt from the last Collegium reunion he attended—writes that he met most of his friends through the ensemble. Martha Cargo enthuses about the enduring sense of community.
“I will always come back for Collegium,” she says.
And for Plank? “It’s a singular joy to be with these students again and to look into their eyes and to revisit all of those things that make music-making together so exciting. I’m very much looking forward to this, and it’s been an extraordinarily happy 25 years. Extraordinarily.”
Daniel Hautzinger is a fourth-year student majoring in piano performance and history. He has sung in Collegium Musicum for three consecutive semesters.