It’s a cliche that Oberlin changes your life.
Less overstated but no less true is the notion that singing in Collegium Musicum under the direction of Steven Plank does the same. Just ask any of the more than 70 singers who will return to Oberlin the weekend of Nov. 6 to celebrate Plank’s 25th year with the ensemble.
“It’s hard to overestimate the importance that Collegium and Dr. Plank had on my life,” said 2004 graduate Christopher Macklin.
“Dr. Plank was such a huge influence on my musical education that there’s not much I wouldn’t do to support him or celebrate his legacy,” 2006 graduate David Crean Class.
To them and to so many others, there’s something ineffable about congregating at Fairchild Chapel every Monday and Wednesday to blend voices in polyphony, with the bearded, bow-tied, blue-blazered Plank at the helm, peppering his musical directives with witticisms.
“There’s this remarkable joy of music-making because everyone is there because they want to be there doing it,” Plank said.
The excitement extends all the way to Plank, Oberlin’s Andrew B. Meldrum Professor of Musicology, who became director of Collegium 10 years into an Oberlin career that has reached 35 years and counting.
“Directing Collegium was an opportunity that very much made Oberlin rather more special for me,” he said. And the opportunity to celebrate 25 years of it? “This is just as blissful a possibility as I can imagine.”
He envisions the weekend as “like a family reunion with rather a lot of music,” with a banquet, lunch with current Collegium members, and rehearsals that will culminate in an ambitious concert in the conservatory’s Warner Concert Hall at 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 7.
Plank will lead alumni in a 40-part motet by Alessandro Striggio, 12-voice pieces by Guerrero and Gombert, and music from Bruckner, Rheinberger, and Biebl.
Collegium’s joy of music-making and music-thinking is complemented by the social bonds it fosters, nurtured by post-concert parties each semester at “Casa Planka,” tours to sing in churches in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, and Washington, D.C., among other cities, and ensemble traditions like the provision of elaborate food and gifts for sectionals.
“It’s a singular joy to be with these students again and to look into their eyes and to revisit all of those things that make music-making together so exciting,” Plank said. “I’m very much looking forward to this, and it’s been an extraordinarily happy 25 years. Extraordinarily.”
This piece is provided by Oberlin College and has been edited for length.
Photo by Julie Crookston Gulenko Steven Plank took the helm of Collegium Musicum in 1990, his 10th year on the Oberlin faculty.