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Renaissance revival

Music professor Stewart Carter inspires interest in Renaissance music

By Kim Underwood Office of Communications and External Relations
Stewart Carter

Wake Forest professor Stewart Carter discovered Renaissance music while serving in the Army.

It was 1971, and Carter was stationed in Washington, playing trombone for the U.S. Army Band, when he was invited to participate in a Renaissance music program at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

When he borrowed a sackbut — the Renaissance version of the trombone — from the Smithsonian, he discovered that it had a less-intense sound than a trombone and that he liked that.

“It seemed to me a more immediately appealing sound,” Carter said.

A new passion was born. For many years now, Carter has shared his love for Renaissance music with others through an annual concert that he puts on with Brian Gorelick, an associate professor and the director of choral ensembles at Wake Forest. This year’s Collegium Musicum Concert, featuring German music of the 16th and 17th centuries, will be held at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 11 in Brendle Recital Hall.  The student musicians will perform on period instruments, including recorders and violas da gamba, the Renaissance version of the cello.

Carter likes the simplicity and directness of Renaissance music.

“It has an immediate rhythmic and sensual appeal, and, since the pieces tend to be short, the music can make its affect in a shorter space of time, without complex formal structures,” Carter said. “This is not to say that Renaissance music is not sophisticated — much of it is quite sophisticated.”

The concert will include one of Carter’s favorite pieces — Ludwig Senfl’s “Da Jakob nu das Kleid ansach.” Originally a vocal piece that tells the Bible story of Jacob lamenting the loss of his son Joseph, it will be performed instrumentally by the trombone choir.

“The music effectively expresses Jacob’s grief, even without the words,” Carter said.

The trombone choir, which is part of the Collegium Musicum, is made up primarily of students, but does include two faculty members from other departments.

Carter joined the Wake Forest music faculty in 1982. He teaches music theory, music history and trombone, and, in 2007, he received the Jon Reinhardt Award for Distinguished Teaching, which recognizes a faculty member who has had an enduring influence on his or her students. Alumni who nominated Carter cited his approachability, patience, dedication and sense of humor.

“In the classroom, I like to keep a light atmosphere,” he said.

Now in his second four-year term as chair of the Department of Music, Carter serves as faculty advisor for all the students majoring or minoring in music.

“These relationships nurture me because they often last a lifetime,” Carter said.

Carter is one of the country’s foremost experts on the trombone during the Renaissance and is working on a book on the subject. The transformation of the sackbut into the trombone of today and modifications to other instruments of the Renaissance had to do, in part, with the need for instruments that could be heard by audiences in bigger spaces.

“You had to fill a large hall,” he said.

Carter is also the executive editor of the Historic Brass Society Journal and has edited two collections of essays — A Performer’s Guide to Seventeenth-Century Music (1997) and Perspectives in Brass Scholarship: Proceedings of the International Early Brass Symposium (1995).

Carter’s wife, Selina, shares his interest in Renaissance music. An adjunct professor at Wake Forest who plays cello with the Winston-Salem Symphony, she also plays a viola da gamba with him in a faculty group called the Wake Forest Consort.

Carter appreciates Renaissance music’s ability to transport him.

“It can put you in another place when you’re absorbed in the music,” he said.

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