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Sponsored by Music Department and Women & Gender Studies
Ambivalence commonly hides in early modern descriptions of music in female monasteries, where sirens often seem to rub shoulders with angels. Clerical writers notably characterized nuns’ singing as a stumbling block on their way to perfection, but also as a dangerous enchantment, especially perilous for male auditors. How did female monastics construct convent “stages” (their organ and choir lofts) and how did they perform there, given clerics’ deep suspicions about the evils of nuns’ singing? We shall examine convent architecture and music (with examples performed by Luther College’s Jubilus Choir) to discover how singing nuns worked their restrictive circumstances to their own advantage. The church’s limitations on convent music may in fact have helped make nuns’ singing the most intense manifestation of their invisible presence: such constraints only increased their music’s mysterious appeal. Nuns’ musical self presentation also encouraged listeners’ sympathetic reception of what they heard. The alluring convent “siren” or convent “Herodias” could become an angel, a seraph, and God’s sanctified instrument.
Questions? Contact Melanie Batoff, 563-387-1211