chant christian music interview music singer songwriter vocal group whispers of the plains

Whispers of the Plains ~ Anoymous 4

anonymous4After reviewing their excellent new compilation album, HPM managed to get five minutes with the fab quartet in between tour dates. Here’s what they had to say…

Why are you called Anonymous 4? You all have such beautiful voices, it must be hard to stay Anonymous!

It was a musical joke, a rather esoteric one! Anonymous 4 is a designation by a modern musicologist for one of many treatises about music and musicians that were written in the Middle Ages, all of them unsigned. This particular treatise describes music from around 1200 in Paris, and names composers who wrote (but also didn’t sign or take credit for) some of the most brilliant vocal music of the day.

When going through hymns to choose to be recorded and arranged for yourselves, how do you pick which hymns to do?

We do concept concerts and concept albums. Each of our programs comes from a certain time and place, like 13th-century France, or 15th-century England. Sometimes, a program is drawn from a certain musical manuscript (Montpellier Codex). Other times, it’s based on a certain personality (the Virgin Mary, St. James) so we choose music with texts focused on that person. And yet at other times, a program follows a certain liturgy or service (e.g. a Mass or Vespers service) which requires certain types of pieces to follow a specific order.
Each of these ways of organizing a concert or a recording guides and limits our choices of pieces to include – and that’s a good thing, as there’s so much great music to choose from! Within those limits, we still sing through lots of relevant music, looking for fabulous pieces and seeking a balance between continuity and variety in musical style and texture.

Do any of you have any particular favourites from your compilation CD “Four Centuries of Chant” or favourite hymns in particular?

Every time we work up music for a new recording, the music for that recording becomes our favorite music. And the pieces we chose to include on the Four Centuries of Chant compilation are some of the most-loved works from all of that favorite music. So it’s very hard to choose one piece in this compilation over another. But one of the hymns that we do love to sing as a magical way to end a show is our English version of “Ave Maris Stella” (track 2), an incredibly beautiful hymn to the Virgin Mary that dates back at least to the 9th century.  And one of the most deeply moving pieces, with incredible intertwining of text and melody, is the English lament of Mary, “Stabat iuxta Christi crucem” (track 5).

How are all your lovely pet’s doing? Do they come with you on tour?

Oh, don’t we wish they would! Nora, the piano-playing cat, made her first TV appearance this afternoon. She seems to be starting her own touring career! So why should all our wonderful kitties (and one dog) not come along…

How do you find going on tour? Do you find your music hits a more emotional place when performed live?

We find that it works both ways. So many people who come to our concerts tell us afterward that they have been transported as we’ve sung our seemingly otherworldly music. But we have also had wonderful reports of our recorded music being used to usher in new life, to accompany people out of this life, and to ease and enhance the healing process after injury or during treatment for illness.

Where else chant-wise would you like to explore next?

We’ve just premiered Secret Voices, a new program of music from the 13th-century Spanish Las Huelgas Codex. We’re really enjoying the diverse styles we’re able to explore in this manuscript, including varying types of 2-part, 3-part, and 4-part polyphony, and some very beautiful chant. We’ll be recording Secret Voices in November, for future release on the harmonia mundi label.

We thank Anonymous 4 for their time and we recommend you see them on tour!

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