Students discover ancient music hidden inside special collections

On Friday, May 1, the students of the Collegium Musicum course will perform ancient music found in the Special Collections Room in Coates Library alongside David Heller, the course professor and music department chair.

Heller will be accompanied by students Anne Belleville, Joseph Erik Montano, Joshua Cohen, Ryun Howe and Sarah Walters.

They will be playing music by composers including Ludwig van Beethoven and George Frideric Handel. It will be an afternoon full of great music and free refreshments.

“It’s important to have an idea of a shared cultural heritage and to be aware of the art and things that have come before you,” Howe said. “Art comes from experience and by experiencing art you can gain experience secondhand.”

First years Cohen and Howe discovered the music in Special Collections during their first-year orientation week scavenger hunt during the beginning weeks of last semester.

“I was in the library doing the scavenger hunt and went into the Special Collections Room, and Professor Toups had all these super old volumes that covered a table, like copies of Da Vinci’s notebooks, and really cool stuff,” Howe said. “I later emailed Professor Toups to see if she had any old music.”

When Toups replied to Howe saying that she had found music that he might be interested in, Howe and Cohen returned to Special Collections to explore further.

“We went in, and we happened to have just finished practicing so we had our instruments with us, and she gave us the music. Since no one was around, we asked if we could play a bit and [Toups] told us to go ahead. It was really cool to play the music,” Cohen said.

After hearing Howe and Cohen practice, Toups suggested that the students put on a concert.

“When Professor Toups asked if we would like to put on some sort of concert using the music, we just kind of took the idea and ran with it,” Cohen said.

Cohen and Howe took the idea to Heller, who proceeded to sponsor them and help work with the registrar’s office to bring the Collegium Musicum class back to life after nearly 10 years of inactivity.

“Special Collections is, in my opinion, tragically underused,” Howe said. “It’s a really, really cool resource. I mean, the music that we are playing was published in 1750, and it’s the original text.”

The course has investigated music of all eras and the students will perform several of the discovered pieces.

“We’ll be playing for about an hour, but we’ll take little breaks to answer questions, talk to people and sit around playing,” Cohen said. “Everyone can just come and go as you please. It’s going to be very relaxed. It’s literally a parlor party.”