Monday, September 11, 2017

Vox16 call for compositions for concert and possible CD recording

Vox16, a Seattle-based chamber choir that performs a cappella vocal music, is looking for new compositions to include in their program featuring local composers, Locally Sourced, on April 7, 2018 at Trinity Parish Church and for a potential CD recording project (of the April program). Submissions are due November 15.


  • 4-7 minutes
  • a cappella
  • Does not exceed 16 parts (preferably up to SSAATTBB)
  • Moderate difficulty or easier
  • Has not been performed in a concert setting or recorded
  • Audio file (midi or singers is welcome, but not required)
  • All are welcome to submit


Submissions should have some relationship to (or draw inspiration from) early music. This can be reflected in the sound, construction, style, subject, sacred text, text painting, texture, and mood. (Does not have to be sacred)


  • Set to sacred text and/or have some liturgical purpose.
  • Achieves a contemplative mood.
  • Deliberate use of homophonic vs polyphony textures
  • Text painting
  • A modern madrigal
  • Based on chant

*Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, Markdavin Obenza,


There is no monetary compensation.

Composers will be invited to work with Vox16 during a rehearsal for approximately 15 minutes and will receive a video recording (and professional audio recording) of their piece.



Once the submissions have been selected, we will launch a fundraising campaign to raise money (approximately 4K) for a CD recording project of the "Locally Sourced" program with the selected compositions.

If the CD project is funded, the recording sessions will take place in January 2018 and will be released at the concert on April 7, 2018. Composers will receive 10 complimentary CDs.


Please email Markdavin Obenza at with a PDF of your music and a brief description about its relationship to early music.

Submissions are due November 15, 2017 

Will announce selections first week of December.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Pre-Order "Flemish Masters," sung by the La Maison Verte International Vocal Ensemble


PRE-ORDER DEADLINE: September 1, 2017

RELEASE DATE: October 1, 2017



GOMBERT: Lugebat David Absalon
JOSQUIN: Absalon fili mi
LASSUS: Missa super Bell' Amfitrit' altera
LASSUS: Laudate Dominum
BYRD: Quomodo cantabimus
de MONTE: Super flumina Babylonis
CLEMENS: Ego flos campi
MOUTON: Nesciens mater


Directed by Markdavin Obenza

Julia Baker 
Beck Laxton
Marilyn McAdoo 
Margaret Obenza
Ruth Schauble 

Doug Fullington 
Jessica Gibbons 
Lauren Kastanas 
Jessica Martin 
Linda Sabee 

Christopher Currie 
Tim Gallagher 
Rich Greene
Jim Howeth 
William Thompson 

T.J. Callahan
Kieran Cooper
Brent Eller
Charles Flory 
Nick Leitch 

Monday, May 29, 2017

Audition for Vox16's 2017-2018 Season!

We are pleased to announce auditions for our upcoming 2017-2018 season. We are looking for singers of all voice parts. Interested singers must sign up by June 28th. 

2017-2018 SCHEDULE More information about repertoire here

Sat Oct 7 at 7:30pm
Trinity Parish Church 
609 8th Ave
Seattle, WA 98104

Renaissance and contemporary settings of Marian motets. Featuring England's finest composers Cornysh, Tallis, Tavener, and Jackson.

Mon Sept 25 at 7pm-10pm
Tues Oct 3 at 7pm-10pm
Wed Oct 4 at 7pm-10pm

January 2018

I would like to record a CD of new choral music in January featuring the selected compositions for the April 7 concert (to be released at that concert). A fundraising effort will be announced in the next few weeks to raise money for the project. 

Interested composers should contact Markdavin at 

Sat April 7 at 7:30pm
Trinity Parish Church 
609 8th Ave
Seattle, WA 98104

New music from local composers

We are looking for composers to submit new compositions for this program. Compositions will be included in the CD project in January (pending funding) which will be released at this concert.

Mon March 26 7pm-10pm 
*This rehearsal will be canceled if we record in January 2018
Wed April 4 at 7pm-10pm
Fri April 6 at 7pm-10pm

Interested singers are required to sign up for a 10-minute audition slot on one of the following dates:

Saturday, July 1, 2017, 2pm-6pm
Saturday, July 8, 2017, 2pm-6pm

Trinity Parish Church 
609 8th Ave
Seattle, WA 98104

Interested singers must sign up by June 28th. 

Singers are required to learn a part of their choice on Lobo's Versa est in luctum and will sing their part with five other singers on the other parts. There will also be a short sight-singing component. 

Singers will be evaluated on the following skills:
1. Execution of Assignment  (25%)
2. Tone Quality (25%)
3. Intonation (20%)
4. Ensemble skills (singing with others) (20%)
5. Sight-singing (10%)

Singers are expected to attend all rehearsals and concerts during the 2017-2018 season. 

Singers pay no fees and are paid a small honorarium. Singers will be entitled to 1/20 of net revenues (ticket sales minus expenses - (sheet music, program printing, building use fee, etc.) This has typically amounted to about $40-$50 per concert and is paid two weeks after each concert. 

If the recording project is funded, singers will receive a fee for each recording session.

Vox16 is a professional chamber ensemble of sixteen singers dedicated to performing unaccompanied choral music from the Renaissance period to the 21st century. An exciting new presence in Seattle’s vibrant choral community, Vox16 was founded in 2015 by director Markdavin Obenza and is part of the Byrd Ensemble's Professional Choral Affiliates Program.

DIRECTOR MARKDAVIN OBENZA has dedicated his career to music. In addition to Vox16, Markdavin is the Artistic Director and co-founder of the Byrd Ensemble, a Seattle-based early music vocal group, and Producer for Scribe Records, an independent record label. He is an active singer and has performed with the Tudor Choir (US) and members of the Tallis Scholars (UK), in addition to the Byrd Ensemble. He is currently the Director of Choral Music at Trinity Parish Church (Seattle, WA). 

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Minimalists or not?


SATURDAY, April 29th at 7:30pm
Trinity Parish Church
609 8th Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104

SUNDAY, April 30th at 3:00pm
Faith Lutheran Church
9041 166th Avenue NE
Redmond, WA 98052

GORECKI - Totus tuus
MUHLY - Lord heare my prayer instantly
MUHLY - In One Place
MUHLY - Pater Noster
MUHLY - Recordare Domine
DUGGAN/LYLE - O sacrum convivium
PÄRT - Seven Magnificat Antiphons
PÄRT - I am the true vine
PÄRT - Magnificat

Save $3 by purchasing your tickets in advance
General Admission: $20
Seniors (65+): $15
Students: $10

Purchase tickets here. Your tickets will be emailed to you. Use your receipt as your ticket, or pick them up at will call.


I can see my music theory professor now, cringing that I’ve labeled Pärt, Górecki, and Muhly as minimalists—this is understandable. Traditionally, we think of Terry Riley, Steve Glass, and John Adams as pioneers of the minimalism movement, so using the same label for the composers on this program warrants some explanation—just because the music contains repetition doesn’t mean it is minimalist!

Minimalism began post-World War II as a response to expressionism. Musically, it was a reaction against the prevailing musical aesthetics—atonal and mathematically generated music by Arnold Schoenberg, Alban Berg, and the like. Minimalism was a movement to reduce music to its most basic elements. American composers Riley, Glass, and Adams led the new style and paved the way to new music based on patterns and extreme repetition. It would not be unusual to encounter a piece based on one pattern and hear it evolve only slightly over the span of twenty minutes.

Repetition and patterning is an important part of the music of Pärt, Górecki, and Muhly; however, their compositional style is not a reaction against expressionism, but instead emerged in a unique and individual way. Nor is their music committed to patterns and repetition to the same degree. Pärt is perhaps the most dedicated ‘patterner,’ but he is quick to break those patterns if it creates unwanted harmony. So, if they aren’t minimalists, how do we describe their style? Some call Pärt and Górecki ‘mystic minimalists’ or more pejoratively ‘pop minimalists.’ Neither of these labels seem to carry the significance their music deserves, so I hope the purists will bear with me while I include them in the minimalist camp for this program.

Arvo Pärt

For the sixth year in a row, Arvo Pärt has been given the title of the “world’s most performed living composer.” Pärt, born in 1935, is an Estonian composer of classical and sacred music. A prolonged struggle with Soviet officials led him to emigrate with his wife and their two sons in 1980. He lived first in Vienna, where he took Austrian citizenship, and then relocated to Berlin, Germany in 1981. He returned to Estonia around the turn of the 21st century and now lives alternately in Berlin and in Tallinn.

After some time experimenting in neoclassical styles, Pärt decided to use Schoenberg’s twelve-tone technique and serialism in his compositions—this displeased the Soviet establishment enough to ban his early works. Pärt, not pleased with his output, went into several periods of contemplative silence, during which he studied choral music from the 14th, 15th, and 16th centuries. His biographer, Paul Hillier, says, “He had reached a position of complete despair in which the composition of music appeared to be the most futile of gestures, and he lacked the musical faith and will-power to write even a single note.”

Pärt spent years immersing himself in Renaissance vocal music and more generally Western music. Out of this period of musical soul-searching emerged a unique compositional style that informed his music beginning in the 1970s—tintinnabuli (bell-like). The tintinnabuli style is a simple compositional technique that allows for a limited number of harmonies. Imagine the harmonies generated by playing a major scale in the left hand and an arpeggio on the right.

The Seven Magnificat Antiphons (1988; revised 1991), marks only the second time that Pärt set a German text. Perhaps the fact that it was commissioned for the Radio Chamber Choir in Berlin, a group whose broadcast performances reached audiences far and wide, suggested that the vernacular language would be the most appropriate choice. Each of these texts, in its normal liturgical context, functions as the antiphon to one iteration of the Magnificat, sung at Vespers on each of the seven evenings preceding Christmas Eve. In Pärt’s composition, these texts are set simply as a series of seven movements.

Pärt’s Magnificat, composed in the tintinnabuli style, employs drones. The solo Soprano part, singing only the pitch C,  provides the tonal center for the piece. Pärt’s setting of the Magnificat, though length and repetition, establishes a sense of timelessness. The half-step dissonances sprinkled throughout alongside the sonorous harmony immediately pull us into a state of contemplation and introspection.

I am the true vine was composed in 1996 for the 900th anniversary of Norwich Cathedral in England. Written for unaccompanied voices, the work offers a twist on Pärt's tintinnabuli technique. Syllables of text are dispersed among the parts in such a way that each part is often often completing another part’s sentence or word. Also, the distribution of the melody among the parts—Bass to Soprano back down to Bass—resembles the vine depicted in the text.

Henryck Mikolaj Górecki (b. 1933) was born in south west Poland to two talented amateur musicians. Musically, the boy developed late, and he enrolled at the conservatoire in Katowice at the age of 22 to study composition. Górecki’s work was not always met with praise. At the 1967 Cheltenham Festival his Refrain (for which he received a prize in Paris) was described: "Players can bang and blow and scrape repeated notes as they wish. The experiment might better have been conducted in private." In London 1978, his music was dismissed as "crude, agitated, often loud and violent". Yet, almost in parallel, Górecki had begun working in a style that could not be more different. His Symphony No 2 (Copernican), from 1972, began a transition towards a more consonant language.

“I think about my audience, but I am not writing for them. I have something to tell them.”

Górecki was a pioneer of modernism in his own country, but, like Pärt, adopted a more pared-down, minimalist style and focused on writing religious music. Totus Tuus was performed at Pope John Paul II’s third visit to Poland, his homeland, in 1987. The outdoor masses were attended by hundreds of thousands of people. Totus Tuus sets a brief prayer to Mary, the patron saint of Poland. Górecki delivers a wonderfully simple but prayerful work for such an occasion.

American composer Nico Muhly (b. 1981) has worked with pop/rock and classical genres. Muhly, only in his mid 30s, is quite the hot contemporary artist. He has worked with Björk and Philip Glass and has composed for the Paris Opera Ballet. Muhly’s sacred music draws from two styles: American minimalism and the Anglican tradition.

Nico Muhly

Muhly’s choral pieces are rarely performed and have not been recorded. Recordare Domine, written for the Tallis Scholars and Peter Phillips, is most unlike the others and favors a more dissonant sound. Pater Noster, a setting of the Lord’s Prayer, draws inspiration from Stravinsky's unaccompanied sacred music, notably his setting of the same text. Lord Heare My Prayer Instantly showcases Muhly’s almost incessant use of triplets in a duple meter, which permeates much of his choral music. Unlike Recordare, Lord Heare and the other choral works on the program  are mostly diatonic and feature repeated musical figures. In One Place, a Pentecost Antiphon, incorporates freely sung text; the overall effect is meant, I assume, to depict the apostles speaking in tongues in the presence of the Holy Spirit.

We invited composers to submit music that would pair well with the program. We are happy to present two works: Caroline Mallonée’s O Lux, and John Duggan and Teena Lyle’s O Sacrum Convivium (world premiere performance).

Caroline Mallonée (b. 1975) has been performed internationally, including New York City at Carnegie Hall, Avery Fisher Hall in Lincoln Center, Tribeca New Music Festival, and the Cambridge Summer Music Festival (UK) and has been broadcast several times over National Public Radio on Garrison Keillor's "A Prairie Home Companion.” Dr. Mallonée holds a Ph.D. from Duke University, a Master’s degree from the Yale School of Music, and a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard University. O Lux is an imitative motet celebrating light. The downward contour represents the light streaming in; the rising line that follows it, the light that raises one's spirits. It was commissioned by the Friends School of Baltimore to commemorate the 225th anniversary of the school’s founding.

John Duggan (b.1963) was a chorister at Westminster Cathedral and studied music at Keble College, Oxford. He is an experienced live-sound and recording engineer in both popular and classical fields. He has written a large body of work for choir, both sacred and secular, including a number of settings of the soldier poets of World War I. He was Creative Arts Fellow at Wolfson College, Oxford (2012–15) and is currently composer-in-residence at Leeds Cathedral in West Yorkshire. His music is published by Novello and Shorter House.

Teena Lyle (b.1963)  is a percussionist, keyboard player and singer who has worked with many artists including Bob Dylan, Placido Domingo, Robbie Williams, and Gloria Gaynor. She is best known for her touring and recording work with Van Morrison. Alongside her performing, she is developing a career as a composer, artist, and teacher.

The text to O Sacrum Convivium, often attributed to St. Thomas Aquinas, illuminates the pivotal role of the Eucharist in Christian life—from the Last Supper, the mystery of Easter unfolds. The sharing of bread evokes the Passion of Christ, the glory of his Resurrection, and the promise of an eternal feast. The power of this imagery lies in the way in which sharing, receiving, passion, grace, and glory intermingle as the divine ingredients in a timeless, celestial banquet. In writing this piece together we wanted to create a beautiful tableau, a piece that arches over performers and listeners like the stone spans of a medieval cathedral, like a field of flowers opening in a time-lapse sequence. The effect is like the gentle roll of waves, where the power builds invisibly in the undertow and then breaks upon the shore of our hearing.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Victoria, Morales, Lobo and Palestrina

A musical exploration of the Habsburg dynasty, featuring Spanish music written for monarchs Charles V and Philip II

SATURDAY MAR 4, 2017 at 7:30PM 
St. Mark's Cathedral 
1245 10th Ave E 
Seattle, WA 98102

Tomás Luis de VICTORIA - Requiem Mass
Introitus: Requiem aeternam
Sanctus & Benedictus
Agnus Dei I, II & III
Communion: Lux aeterna
Versa est in luctum
Responsory: Libera me


VICTORIA - Magnificat primi toni
Cristóbal de MORALES - Circumdederunt me
MORALES - “Requiem aeternam” from Missa pro Defunctis
Alonso LOBO - Versa est in luctum
Giovanni Pierluigi da PALESTRINA - Nunc dimittis

Danielle Sampson
Margaret Obenza
Christina Siemens

Sarra Sharif Doyle
Joshua Haberman

Orrin Doyle
Kurt Kruckeberg

Peter Lifland
Willimark Obenza
David Stutz

The House of Habsburg was an incredible patron of the arts. During its six-century rule, it shaped the arts world like no other dynasty, employing singers and commissioning composers on an international scale. The program features music by the most prominent Spanish Renaissance composers employed by Charles V and Philip II: Victoria, Morales, and Lobo, and the great Counter-Reformation Italian composer Palestrina.

The House of Habsburg was one of the most influential royal houses of Europe. At the height of its power, the dynasty ruled Austria, a vast tract of Central Europe, Spain, the Low Countries, much of South America, and it occupied the throne of the Holy Roman Empire for nearly three centuries. The Habsburgs held the arts in high regard. In the sixteenth century, the power and wealth of a dynasty were expressed through its patronage of art and science. The most important ruler had to demonstrate that he was also an outstanding patron by commissioning and collecting works of art. Artists employed at the court enjoyed a good income, high social standing, and remarkable freedoms, a rarity during period of religious turbulence. The Habsburg who defined Europe in the Renaissance was Charles V (1500-1558), who ruled Spain and its overseas empire and was elected Holy Roman Emperor in 1519.

Music played an important role Charles’s court. Sacred music was sung for the daily services in the court chapel, for special memorial services, marriages and affairs of state that required a solemn ceremony in church. Professional singers and the clergy provided the chapel with music. Members of the court chapel performed many duties, as they were often singer, priest, composer, choirmaster, organist, music teacher, and scribe at the same time. Additionally, the nobility received extensive musical education themselves, often from the members of the court chapel, and learned how to sing and play instruments.

Charles surrounded himself with musicians. In Brussels he had a court chapel of mainly Flemish musicians called the “Capilla Flamenca” which he eventually brought with him to Spain. At his Spanish court Charles formed a larger ensemble, “La Grande Chapelle,” made up of the best musicians from the whole of Europe. The group performed sacred polyphony for voices and eventually secular music with instruments, once it came into style in the late sixteenth century. Charles loved both sacred and secular music.

Composer Cristóbal de Morales (c.1500–1553), a contemporary of Charles, is regarded as the most important Spanish composer before Victoria. The preference by Pope Paul III of employing Spanish singers in the papal chapel choir helped Morales, who moved to Rome in 1535 and joined up. During his time, Morales sang on three occasions for the emperor Charles V and received a commission to write music for Charles’s wedding to Isabella of Portugal in 1526. Morales remained employed by the Vatican until 1545, after which he returned to Spain following a period of unsuccessful job hunting in Italy. While regarded as one of the greatest composers in Europe, he was an unpopular employee and had difficulty keeping his jobs.

Morales was one of the first important contributors to a growing repertoire of musical settings of the liturgy for the dead. His antiphon for the the solemn office, Circumdederunt me, set for five voices, achieves a dark mood through slow-moving polyphony and low ranges. The sound fits the text perfectly.

The groanings of death have encircled me: the sorrows of hell have enclosed me.

His settings of funeral music were disseminated widely across Europe. The Missa pro Defunctis was likely sung in Mexico in 1559 at memorial ceremonies for Emperor Charles V and his son, Philip II of Spain.

Philip II of Spain (1527-1598), "Philip the Prudent,” reigned during the so-called “Golden Age.” At the peak of his influence and power, Philip’s empire included territories on every continent then known to Europeans, including his namesake the Philippine Islands. People described his dominion as “the empire on which the sun never sets.” Unfortunately, his reign also saw the economic decline of Spain and the disastrous decade from 1588-1598 which included the devastating defeat of the Spanish Armada. Philip loved music and was a passionate art patron. He had a wonderful collection of masterpieces at the Escorial, his palace outside of Madrid, and was well educated in History and Politics but poor at languages.

16th-century Spanish music patronage differs from English, French, and Italian music in that the Spanish royal house maintained two royal chapels: the House of Burgundy and the House of Castile. The first was made up of Charles’s and Philip’s Low Countries subjects (Flemish) and the second of Spaniards. Philip’s maintenance of two chapels of singers and players showed an incredible commitment to music, unmatched by his contemporary sovereigns. Philip was also the only monarch of his time who patronized Italian, Spanish, and Flemish composers equally. He was the only patron to whom Palestrina dedicated two books of masses. Philip also helped Spanish composer Guerrero on his first publication, and Victoria dedicated one of his lavish single publications of Magnificats to him in 1563. Philip was the leading international music patron of his age.

Tomás Luis de Victoria (c.1548-1611), the most famous Spanish composer at the time, was one of the most important composers of the Counter-Reformation, along with Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina (1525-1594), and Orlando di Lasso. Victoria was not only a composer but also an accomplished organist and Catholic priest. Victoria was sent by Philip in 1565 to prepare for holy orders at the German College in Rome. During this time he likely studied under Palestrina, whom he eventually succeeded as director of music at the Roman Seminary.

The Magnificat, the Canticle of Mary, was the next most important part of the liturgy after the Mass in the 16th-century Catholic Church. It was sung at the close of each day’s service of Vespers: Settings of the Magnificat were in demand. Composers served this liturgical need by publishing a complete set of eight or sixteen settings of the Magnificat, covering eight “tones” or keys. Victoria’s Magnificat primi toni, one of his two polychoral settings, employs eight voices and alternates between fugal sections for one choir and full double choir passages for both choirs. The way Victoria balances imitation and full homophonic statements in his Magnificat is strikingly similar to Palestrina’s techniques in Nunc dimittis for double choir—we can hear why Victoria is called the “Spanish Palestrina.”

In 1578 Philip II honored Victoria’s request to return to his native Spain, where he met the pious dowager empress Maria, sister of Philip, and later became her chaplain. His last work was the Requiem Mass (1605) in memory of the empress Maria, his most famous work. All of the music in the Requiem Mass is scored for six voices, except the initial Taedet animam meam funeral motet (not sung in the program) he also wrote for the occasion. The second soprano part often carries the cantus firmus (a pre-existing melody used as the basis of a polyphonic composition), though it disappears into the other parts. Victoria concludes the Mass with the motet Versa est in luctum, which was probably sung as the clergy and dignitaries assembled around the catafalque, a decorated wooden framework supporting the empress’s coffin. 

Philip II died at San Lorenzo in 1598. Alonso Lobo (1555-1617) wrote his best motet, Versa est in luctum, for Philip’s funeral at Toledo Cathedral. While the six-part motet is set to text associated with a Requiem Mass, he did not write a complete Requiem Mass setting. Though not as famous as Victoria, this stunning motet filled with beautiful, cascading lines captures the despair of the text and showcases why Victoria considered him to be an equal.

My harp is turned to grieving and my flute to the voice of those who weep. Spare me, O Lord, for my days are as nothing.

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Flemish Masters: Gombert, Isaac and Crecquillon

Nicholas Gombert

Flemish Music for the House of Habsburg
FEB 4, 2017 at 7:30PM
St. Mark's Cathedral
1245 10th Ave E
Seattle, WA 98102

Nicolas GOMBERT - Magnificat tertii et octavi toni
GOMBERT - Lugebat David Absalon
Heinrich ISAAC - Tota pulchra es
JOSQUIN - Gaude virgo mater
Thomas CRECQUILLON - Pater peccavi
arr. Ludwig SENFL - Quis dabit oculis nostris
ISAAC - Virgo prudentissima

TICKETS Save $2 per ticket by purchasing in advance
General Admission: $25
Seniors (65+): $20
Students: $15

Soprano: Danielle Sampson, Ruth Schauble, Margaret Obenza
Alto: Sarra Sharif Doyle, Joshua Haberman
Tenor: Orrin Doyle, Kurt Kruckeberg
Bass: Gabriel Lewis-O'Connor, Peter Lifland, Willimark Obenza

The House of Habsburg, one of the most influential royal houses of Europe, shaped the arts world like no other dynasty. In the sixteenth century, the power and wealth of a dynasty were expressed through its patronage of art and science. The most important ruler had to demonstrate that he was also an outstanding patron by commissioning and collecting works of art. Artists employed at the court enjoyed a good income, high social standing, and remarkable freedoms, a rarity during this period of religious turbulence. The program features music by the most famous Franco-Flemish composers employed by Maximilian I (1486-1519) and Charles V (1519-1556).

Music was clearly important to Charles V. He collected musicians during his travels, eventually finding Nicolas Gombert (c.1495-1560) in Flanders and naming him choirmaster for the royal chapel in 1529. He and the singers would travel with the emperor, further spreading the Franco-Flemish polyphonic tradition. He unofficially held the position of court composer, arranging many works commemorating key events during Charles V’s life. In 1540, Gombert ran into trouble with the law and was sentenced to hard labor but was pardoned early sometime around 1547, after Charles heard the Magnificat settings he composed while serving his sentence. These “swansongs” are considered to be Gombert’s greatest works and showcase his style—a preference for dense textures and dissonant harmony. His setting of the Magnificat on the program is the third of a cycle of eight and alternates between plainchant and polyphonic sections. Magnificat begins with three parts and unfolds to eight parts by the end, each section marked with Gombert’s signature splash of dissonance.

Gombert’s eight-voice motet Lugebat David Absalon was originally attributed to Josquin. Josquin (c.1450-1521), a contemporary of Gombert and Isaac, is considered to be the greatest composer of the age and was so famous and admired that many anonymous compositions were attributed to him by copyists, probably to increase their sales. This Lugebat David Absalon is an example. Gombert’s work is an eight-voice motet based on David’s Lament and is a contrafactum (where the composer substitutes one text for another without making substantial changes to the music). The motet is filled with beautiful imitative descending lines (classic lament painting) and the pleading repetition of “O fili mi” (O my son!), making it one of the most moving settings of David’s Lament in the Renaissance.

Heinrich Isaac’s (c.1450-1517) career spanned over 30 years and allowed him to travel far from his homeland of Flanders into Germany, Italy, and Austria. He took several positions as a professional singer before making his way to Vienna to take up the position of court composer for Emperor Maximilian I. Around 1502, Isaac traveled to Ferrara to the Este court, where he wrote the motet La mi la sol la sol la mi in merely two days and competed with Josquin for employment. A famous letter from the agent of the Este Family compared the two composers, “[Isaac] is of a better disposition among his companions, and he will compose new works more often. It is true that Josquin composes better, but he composes when he wants to and not when one wants him to." The program includes two motets by Isaac dedicated to the Virgin Mary, both based on chant (found in the lower voice parts in longer note values). Tota pulchra is scored for four lower voices and, through carefully balanced chordal and homophonic textures, delivers an intimate mood in this setting from the Song of Songs. Isaac’s Virgo prudentissima, one of the grandest motets of the Renaissance, is a musical dedication to the Virgin Mary on one hand but also a tribute to his employer Maximilian I on the other, written for his coronation. The text is by humanist Vadian, and it expresses hope that the Virgin will look mercifully on Maximillian. The motet alternates between chant sung as a duet and with declamatory sections of polyphony, one of Isaac’s most complex works.

Josquin’s Gaude virgo mater Christi is from a time when devotion to the Virgin Mary flourished in the High Middle Ages and the Renaissance, fostering new celebrations, new poetry, and music dedicated to the worship of the Virgin. The text has no liturgical use and was likely written for private devotion. The four-part motet tells the story of Mary’s involvement with the Christ Child from her Annunciation, through his death and resurrection.

Not much is known about Thomas Crecquillon (1505-1557). He was a priest and member of the chapel of Charles V and died probably as a victim of the plague. Though details of his life are spare, his output was somewhat prolific. He wrote twelve masses, over 100 motets, and 200 chansons. Like Josquin, Crecquillon stylistically preferred writing imitative polyphony but rarely varied the texture for dramatic effect, preferring smoothness and consistency, as demonstrated in Pater peccavi, a motet about the story of the Prodigal Son.

Ludwig Senfl (1486-1542) was the most famous student of Isaac and served as his copyist. When Isaac died in 1517, Maximilian I appointed Senfl to fill Isaac’s position as court composer. However, when Maximilian died in 1519, Senfl lost his job, and his situation became worse: Charles V dismissed most of Maximilian’s musicians and refused to pay Senfl the annual stipend owed to him in the event of Maximilian's death. He spent his next few years seeking employment, eventually sympathizing with Protestants (although never officially becoming one) and acquiring a post in Munich which had high musical standards and was tolerant of Protestant sympathizers.

Quis dabit oculis nostris was originally attributed to Senfl, but it was actually composed by Costanzo Festa, who wrote it originally for the death of Anne de Bretagne, the Queen of France whom Maximilian once sought for his wife. Senfl adapted Festa’s motet for Maximillian’s funeral, changing only a few words (“Anna” was replaced by “Maximilianus”) with the necessary rhythmic adjustments, probably because Senfl did not have enough time to compose a new motet.

The sixteenth century was a golden age for Renaissance vocal music, and this program showcases the essence of the Flemish style:  smooth and elegant lines, a predominantly polyphonic texture, and very moderate vocal ranges. From the somber setting of David’s lament in Gombert’s Lugebat David Absalon, to Isaac’s fireworks-of-a-motet Virgo Prudentissima, the program displays the remarkable range of expression in Flemish polyphony. 

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Recording Retreat at La Maison Verte

Step away from it all and participate in a Recording Retreat at beautiful La Maison Verte, an 1830's wine-maker's mansion located in the beautiful Languedoc region of southern France.

Saturday, July 22, 2017 - Saturday, July 29, 2017

To record a full-length CD of Flemish Renaissance polyphony, featuring music by one or more of the following composers:
  • Adrian Willaert
  • Antoine Brumel
  • Cipriano de Rore
  • Clemens non Papa
  • Heinrich Isaac
  • Josquin des Prez
  • Orlando de Lassus
  • Thomas Crecquillon
Repertoire will be finalized after the singers have been selected.

Sopranos, Altos, Tenors and Basses—4 on each part for a total of 16 singers (maximum 20). Experience singing Renaissance polyphony preferred though not required. We will tailor the experience to fit all skill levels!

MARKDAVIN OBENZA is the director of Seattle-based Byrd Ensemble, founder of chamber choir Vox16, and Producer for Scribe Records, an independent record label. He is an active freelance singer who performs with the Byrd Ensemble and has performed with the Tudor Choir, Early Music Vancouver and members of the Tallis Scholars. He is the Director of Choral Music at Trinity Parish Church in Seattle, WA.

FRANCIS STEELE is musical director of Verte Musique and was, for thirty years, a professional vocalist, singing bass for such groups as The Tallis Scholars and The Sixteen. Since 2003 he has developed a worldwide reputation as a vocal group coach/tutor and has also produced many CDs. He enjoys working with less experienced singers as much as with professionals.

SCHEDULE: subject to change, a little!
SAT JULY 22 - Arrive and relax!
We'll have dinner, introductions, and talk about the week ahead! Have a nap to situate yourself in the time zone, or maybe check out the town. Or maybe you need to stay up and swim in the pool or play some ping pong... tons of things to do!

SUN JULY 23-MON JULY 24 - Time to rehearse
A light continental breakfast is served at 8am. We'll have a rehearsal at 10am, have lunch at 1pm, and more rehearsal from 2:30pm-6pm. Dinner at 6pm. Small group performances at 8pm followed by a nightcap at the bar! We're hoping to fit a short lecture about the music and the technical recording process.

TUES JULY 25-THURS JULY 27 - Recording Sessions
Just like the previous days, but with recording sessions in the afternoon at the Roujan town church, Cahuzac Isabelle.

FRI JULY 28 - Performance at the Roujan town church, Cahuzac Isabelle
The main event is the performance this evening. We'll take it easy today and have a light rehearsal in the afternoon after lunch.

SAT JULY 29 - Goodbye!
A nice brunch as we say farewell!

€695 (that's Euros!)

What your fee includes:
  • Accommodations for one person for the entire week Note: Most of the rooms are double occupancy. There are a few single occupancy rooms available at €795 on a first-come, first-served basis. 
  • Includes a continental breakfast, lunch and dinner. Alcoholic beverages will be available for purchase.
  • A professionally-produced CD of your singing on the retreat.
  • An in-depth understanding about the recording process.
  • A lecture about the history behind the music.
  • An opportunity to fine tune the musical skills required for recording session work as well as concert performance.
  • A concentrated week of singing to focus on the vocal skills necessary for chamber ensemble singing.
Interested singers, please fill out this application. Sign up soon! Space is limited.

This course is sponsored by the Byrd Ensemble. Please send all payments to:

The Byrd Ensemble
PO BOX 12505
Seattle, WA 98111-4505

For more information, please contact Markdavin Obenza at


What's so cool about the house?
La Maison Verte was built in the 1830′s, and started life as a wine producer’s mansion. Nothing much has changed, except now the gardens grow oleanders, irises, mimosa, tamarisk, lilac and almonds as well as vines. The property remains totally secluded, with a vast courtyard and an acre or so of fragrant and colourful gardens. The swimming pool is surrounded by mulberry, fig and almond trees, and pomegranates, oranges and lemons all thrive. It belongs to English singer Francis Steele, arts administrator Anne Roberts and their thirteen-year-old daughter Eliza. They live there all year round, and are always on hand to give help, information or advice to enable guests to make the most of their stay.

Where do we rehearse and record?
Rehearsal room: we have a vast rehearsal room (80m2), which is well sound-proofed with an acoustically tested ceiling.  It has a terracotta tiled floor, its own shower and toilets and a wall of windows providing beautiful views of the courtyard and pool.

Rehearsal Room

Wine Barn: our wine barn is also about 80m2 and can be used either as a semi-alfresco eating area or as an additional workshop space.

Break-out spaces: we have additional spaces including a large living room which can be used for small group work such as discussions, singing or as quiet spaces.

Recording sessions and the Friday concert will be held here at Cahuzac Isabelle.

Cahuzac Isabelle

Tell me about the what's around La Maison Verte!
La Maison Verte is set in the hub of the working village of Roujan, in the beautiful Languedoc region of southern France. The property is only 5 minutes’ drive from the very popular town of Pézenas, 25 minutes from the beaches of the Mediterranean, and within 90 minutes‘ drive of 5 international airports. The village boasts two superb bakeries and a traditional French café, and the Saturday market at nearby Pézenas (once the capital of Languedoc) is one of the best markets in the region. All around, vineyards stretch as far as the eye can see, providing guests with superb walks, and of course, excellent wine-tasting opportunities!

Languedoc is a hidden treasure, growing in popularity all the time.  Between the mountains and the Mediterranean, it is rich in history, breath-takingly beautiful, blessed with superb weather and rejoicing in a burgeoning international reputation for the quality of its wine.  It is also served by at least 6 airports within two hours of La Maison Verte, the closest of which (Beziers/Cap d’Agde) is just half an hour away.

MORE PHOTOS. Read more about La Maison Verte here.